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

16:23, April 12, 2011      

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures as he speaks to supporters outside Milan's court April 11, 2011. A defiant Berlusconi arrived in court on Monday to face the latest in a series of trials over the coming weeks on charges ranging from tax fraud to paying for sex with a minor. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

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".

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