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Berlusconi's conviction sparks fears for stability of Italian gov't

By Marzia De Giuli (Xinhua)

09:37, June 25, 2013

MILAN, Italy, June 24 (Xinhua) -- The conviction of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was given a seven-year jail term and a lifetime ban from politics on Monday, sparked questions on the stability of the Italian fragile left-right government.

Berlusconi, 76, was sentenced by a Milan court for paying sex with an underage Moroccan former dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known as "Ruby Heartstealer," and abusing his power to cover it up in 2010.

During the two-year-long trial, dozens of showgirls described sex parties that young women were allegedly paid to attend at the houses of the media entrepreneur and three-time premier.

There are two more levels of appeal, but the conviction came while Berlusconi is facing multiple corruption and fraud trials, which could mean the end of his two-decade political career.

Berlusconi, who has always claimed innocence, in a statement expressed outrage at the verdict which he said aimed to "eliminate" him from political life and promised that he will continue his "battle to make Italy a country that is truly free and just."

Strong arguments broke out between his supporters, insisting that he was the victim of left-wing magistrates since he entered politics in 1994, and opponents who called on his immediate exit from politics.

In fact, even though Berlusconi is no longer in government, he is still very much in control behind it: the fragile left-right coalition of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which took power in April after months of deadlock, depends on the votes of his center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party for its survival.

On Monday, various leaders from the entire political spectrum reassured recession-plagued Italians that the government will not be affected by Berlusconi's judiciary happenings.

But according to local observers, the verdict will have some unavoidable consequences on the government's future.

"Everyone is now asking Berlusconi's followers whether the government is likely to fall down, but instead they should ask Letta and his (center-left) Democratic Party what are they doing with such an ally," Marco Travaglio, an investigative journalist and opinion leader, said commenting on the conviction.

Mario Sechi, a writer and political columnist, said he could not take for granted that the government will break out but "it is obvious that there will be some consequences."

Berlusconi's reaction was "cautious" but he may "ride on the verdict" and prepare "a counter offensive" to attract millions of voters again at next national elections which are expected before the natural end of the government's five-year mandate, he added.

Massimo Cacciari, a political scientist and frequent commentator, called on Italy to turn over a new leaf. In his view, Berlusconi should be banned from politics "through an electoral battle and not a judiciary one."

"For 15 years, Berlusconi has been on the headlines locking politics around his legal proceedings. It is time for Italy to address other issues and forget once and for all of him," he said.

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