Puglia governor looks to primaries after acquittal

'I'm happy' a tearful Vendola tells ANSA

Puglia governor looks to primaries after acquittal

Bari, October 31 - Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola was cleared of a charge of abuse of office by a court in this southern Italian city on Wednesday. Prosecutors had requested a 20-month prison sentence for Vendola for the allegedly unlawfully appointment of a local chief of surgeons, Paolo Sardelli, at Bari's San Paolo hospital in 2010. "I'm happy," a tearful Vendola, the leader of the leftwing Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party, told ANSA after the ruling was announced. "I'm a good person and (being involved in this probe) was a bitter pill for me to swallow". The openly gay Vendola is running in the primaries to choose the centre-left coalition's candidate to be premier at next year's national elections, along with Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the main centre-left Democratic Party (PD). The PD's 37-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, is also running in the primaries. "Those who know me know that the trial was an important issue for me and I was a little ashamed," Vendola said. "Now I'm thinking about starting the charge for the primaries. Up to now I've been held back". Vendola, 54, had said he would quit politics if he were convicted. He contrasted his position with that of Silvio Berlusconi, who said at the weekend that he had changed his mind about leaving front-line politics - while insisting he would not run for a fourth term as Italian premier - after being convicted of fraud last week. His acquittal provided some relief for Italy's political class after a series of big corruption scandals and it was welcomed by figures from all sides of the country's party spectrum. However, Fabrizio Cicchitto, the House whip for Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, suggested Vendola had benefited from magistrates being softer on the Left. "We give our best wishes and congratulations to Vendola for the acquittal," said Cicchitto. "But this shows that there are double standards in the application of justice," added the whip, who last week said Berlusconi's fraud conviction for tax evasion on the trading of broadcasting rights for his Mediaset empire was the result of "persecution" from left-leaning judges. Lea Cosentino, the former head of the health board in Bari whom Vendola fired in 2010 after she was placed under house arrest during a graft investigation, was also acquitted of abuse of office. Vendola had said the case against him was based solely on testimony from Cosentino. "She is accusing me due to her strong resentment," he had said.

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