Berlusconi says won't go down like Craxi

PD says would vote arrest

Berlusconi says won't go down like Craxi

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 13 - Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has insisted he will not meet the same fate as his one-time sponsor and personal friend, late premier Bettino Craxi, who was driven from power by anti-corruption probes and died in self-imposed exile in Tunisia in 2000. The media-magnate-turned politician, whose burgeoning TV empire was shielded by Craxi in the 1980s, accused Milanese magistrates Wednesday of trying to bring him down as they did his controversial predecessor. The Socialist prime minister of Italy from 1983 to 1987, Craxi was at the centre of the 1992-1994 Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) anti-corruption investigations carried out by Milan prosecutors. Fingered as the main culprit as Italy's political establishment crumbled, he fled to Tunisia to avoid prison in 1994 and died at his Tunisian villa in January 2000. Berlusconi has for years been saying allegedly leftist magistrates, mainly in Milan, are hounding him. But Wednesday's statement was his strongest direct comparison to his old friend and godfather of his second daughter Barbara, now an AC Milan director. ''Rumors are rife that people are expressly and shamelessly talking about an operation Craxi 2'', Berlusconi told Panorama magazine, part of his media empire, which includes Italy's three largest commercial TV stations and its biggest publishing group, Mondadori. ''They couldn't eliminate me by democratic means, that is through elections, so now they're trying to use the justice system for political ends. They know I am the real obstacle on the Left's path". Berlusconi's defiant statement came as the main centre-left group, the Democratic Party (PD), for the first time said they would vote to approve Berlusconi's arrest if a request with convincing evidence came in from prosecutors. PD National Coordinator Maurizio Migliavacca told Sky Tg24 that his party would vote to arrest Berlusconi in any of the court cases currently open against him, if the prosecution showed the case against him was strong enough. Berlusconi is under investigation on suspicion of bribing former Senator Sergio De Gregorio to switch parties in 2006, a move which destabilized the centre-left government and contributed to its eventual collapse. Berlusconi is also appealing a four-year conviction for tax fraud in the purchase of broadcasting rights by his Mediaset group, and, in his most sensational case to date, is on trial in Milan for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute, a Moroccan nightclub dancer whose stage name was Ruby Heart-stealer. He is also accused of later abusing his position as premier by pressuring police to release Ruby when she was detained on an unrelated theft allegation, saying he wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident because she was, as he then mistakenly believed, the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. If convicted on both counts, he faces a total of 15 years in jail. In another case, a Milan judge on March 7 sentenced him to a one-year jail term for involvement in the publication by his family newspaper Il Giornale of an illegally obtained wiretap concerning Italian insurance company Unipol's almost-successful bid to buy Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 2005. The wiretap severely embarrassed then centre-left leader Piero Fassino. On Wednesday Berlusconi was again defended by his party secretary, Angelino Alfano, who said judges had waged a "20-year war" against him. Tensions between the premier's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party peaked Monday when the PdL staged a demonstration outside the Ruby trial, stigmatised on Tuesday as "unprecedented" by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. The PdL launched the demo after judges in the Ruby trial for a second time sent doctors to verify if an eye problem for which the premier has been hospitalised justified his not attending the final stage of the closely watched case. Judges on Tuesday granted Berlusconi's plea that his medical condition - the eye infection and high blood pressure stemming from treatment - constituted a "legitimate impediment" to his showing up for the trial. On Wednesday they demanded a new sick note from the ex-premier's doctors, and adjourned the trial until Monday. A verdict was initially expected March 18, upping pressure on the ex-premier in the aftermath of Italy's inconclusive general election, but that date will now be pushed back, court sources said. Berlusconi came narrowly second to the centre left in last month's election but has been blackballed by both centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who faces the tough task of forming a government, and anti-establishment comedian and activist Beppe Grillo, whose 5-Star Movement rode a huge shock protest vote to become the biggest single party in the House and hold the balance of power in the Senate. No party has a majority in the upper house and pundits have widely predicted Democratic Party (PD) leader Bersani's efforts to woo Grillo supporters to attain a confidence vote will fail. One scenario sees another election this summer and the possible replacement of Bersani as PD leader by the much younger, more media-savvy and centrist mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who polls say has a wider appeal. Grillo meanwhile invited Berlusconi to imitate Craxi, saying this would be better for the health of Italy and the ex-premier. "Berlusconi is scared of ending up like Craxi, but in reality it would be lucky for him," Grillo said on his blog. "He could escape to Tunisian beaches full of Rubies without having the daily ball-breaking of the magistrates. "He should let himself get arrested as soon as possible without any extenuating circumstances and take flight before the arrest. "He will gain in health terms. He will heal from his uveitis (an irritation and swelling of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye) and the Italians will finally heal from the orchitis that he has inflicted on them for 20 years". Orchitis is an inflammation of the testicles.

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