Berlusconi's judiciary battle takes to public stage outside Milan courthouse

10:26, April 12, 2011      

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Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Monday attended a trial hearing for a tax fraud case in Milan amid crowds of demonstrators, which caused the complaint of local judiciary authorities.

Security was tight inside and all around the courthouse in the northern Italian city, with a number of agents in civilian clothes and teams of policemen handling bomb-detection dogs.

Outside, a crowd of Berlusconi supporters, a few thousands according to organizers, distributed light blue balloons, the color of his ruling conservative party, with "Silvio resisti" ( Hang on Silvio) written on them.

In the case, Berlusconi is charged with alleged tax fraud and embezzlement on the buying and selling of television rights by his Mediaset broadcast company, along with other defendants including his son Piersilvio.

As Berlusconi entered the courtroom, in which TV camera were banned, he told reporters he is the victim of political persecution by left-wing Italian judges, who "are working against the country" using the legal system to bring him down.

He described as "invented and insane" the charges against him in the trial and in the three others he is currently facing, including for corruption, abuse of office and paying a minor for sex.

Asked by journalists if he thought he might be convicted, he replied with a smile "no way, you must be dreaming".

On the so-called "Rubygate" trial, in which Berlusconi is charged of paying for sex with underage Moroccan-born club dancer Karima el Marough nicknamed Ruby, and abusing his power to get her out of police custody, he reaffirmed he "never laid a finger on her."

"The girl told me and everyone else a very sorrowful tale, so I gave her a chance to open a beauty clinic with a friend of hers," Berlusconi said, admitting he gave her thousands of euros, but only "to stop her from being forced into prostitution".

Then he used a break in proceedings to speak through a microphone to flag-waving supporters outside the courthouse. "I passed a surreal morning, which was a waste of time and resources, all for nothing. There is no proof or testimony that supports the prosecutors' thesis,"he said.

He complained an "incredible amount of mud" had been slung against him. "I thank you all for the faith and support you give me, which I assure that I fully deserve," he told his fans, many of which came from different regions of Italy.

"I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to come here. I am 55 years old and this is the very first time in my life that I take part in a demonstration, as I cannot stand anymore to see Italians so busy persecuting Berlusconi instead of facing the many real problems of the country," a supporter said.

The 74-year-old prime minister has recently announced he will attend court hearings because they will give him an opportunity to defend himself in front of Italians, but his opponents say he is using the courts as a stage to present himself as a victim and mount an offensive against the judiciary.

"All Italians are paying the cost of these shows in terms of paralysis in everything. I think Berlusconi should be simply processed as a normal citizen," a lawyer named Alba Sarto told Xinhua.

In a letter sent after the hearing to all judges in Milan, presidents of the courthouse Livia Pomodoro and Giuseppe Tarantola noted that "the situation of demonstrations outside the courthouse is annoying all of us and it is an evident impediment to the normal judiciary activities".

"We intend to complain to the competent authorities in order to avoid disturbance to those who visit the courthouse every day, and of course to ensure the dignity to those who administer justice," they said in the letter.

Source: Xinhua
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