Italy PM survives confidence votes

Razor-thin victory of Silvio Berlusconi provokes the most violent protests seen in Rome for years.

Berlusconi warned that a no-confidence vote against him could plunge Italy into the euro zone’s debt crisis [Reuters]

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has survived a crucial no-confidence vote in parliament by three votes, triggering violent clashes in the streets of Rome that left 90 people injured and dozens more arrested.

Angry protesters banged on the metal blinds of shuttered shops in the centre of Rome late on Tuesday as word spread that Berlusconi had won the vote.

Some of the protesters then set cars alight and hurled cobblestones at police in chaotic scenes in some of Rome’s most tourist-heavy streets.

Riot police fired tear gas and could be seen striking some of the protesters with truncheons in running street fights. Several protesters were taken away, some with blood on their faces.

Officials said at least 90 people were injured in the violence, including 50 security officers and 40 protesters, while Forty-one people were detained on charges of violence, vandalism and use of illegal arms.

The clashes came after a peaceful march by several thousand anti-Berlusconi protesters through the centre of Rome. There were also protests in some of Italy’s biggest cities including Genoa, Milan, Naples and Turin.

Razor-thin victory

Berlusconi won with a razor-thin majority, with 314 legislators voting in his favour, 311 against and two abstentions in the 630-seat lower house on Tuesday.

He also won a confidence vote in the Senate with a large majority.

“I didn’t just survive, I’m strong,” Berlusconi said, adding however that enacting much-needed structural reforms would now be “more difficult.”

“I am convinced that an election campaign at this time is something the country absolutely does not need,” Berlusconi told reporters.

But he added: “If it’s impossible to govern, we won’t stay floating. I will go into an election campaign with great enthusiasm.”

Berlusconi’s current mandate is only set to run out in 2013.

The Italian leader also said he would aim to widen his ruling coalition and the government to include former foes who voted for him.

Voting in the lower house was briefly interrupted after Katia Polidori voted in favour of Berlusconi, sparking jeers.

Polidori is a member of the group of legislators loyal to Gianfranco Fini,  the Chamber speaker who broke with Berlusconi this summer, precipitating the political crisis.

The wafer-thin win will not give the 74-year-old prime minister the strength to push through the kind of reforms that are needed to address deep-seated problems in the economy.  

Italy has one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, at almost 120 per cent of gross domestic product. But it has largely escaped the euro zone debt storm thanks to tight control of spending and a conservative banking system that avoided excess during the market boom.

Blunder and bluster

Many critics and analysts have predicted his demise over the past two years because of a series of corruption and sex scandals, including most recently allegations over his relationship with a nightclub dancer.

His populist style has earned him the adoration of part of the Italian public but he is loathed by others and has been increasingly dogged in recent years by scandals and a series of embarrassing international gaffes.

Berlusconi has been charged with corruption in connection with a bribe payment in return for witness evidence favourable to the prime minister, but he escaped sentencing because the case had expired under a 10-year statute of limitations.

Despite numerous other charges, he has never been convicted of any crime.

Italy’s third richest man, Berlusconi likes to play up his Latin-lover persona and some of his most  damaging scandals have involved a parade of alluring young women.

His second wife, Veronica Lario, filed for divorce after some lurid allegations last year.

Among the prime minister’s most shocking blunders have been likening a German member of the European Parliament to a Nazi concentration camp guard and calling Barack Obama, US president, “suntanned”.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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