(see related) Rome, August 22 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi repeated Thursday he would not step down as leader of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party despite a pending ban from office over a definitive criminal conviction for tax fraud. "They can do anything to me, but they can't take away three things: the freedom to comment on the state of Italian public affairs, the right to drive and guide the political movement I founded, and the right to be the focal point for millions of Italians, as long as these citizens freely want it," said Berlusconi. The Senate is set to vote September 9 on stripping three-time premier and media magnate Berlusconi of his place in the upper house according to a new anti-corruption law that kicked in after his August 1 conviction for tax fraud, his first definitive sentence in almost 20 years of battles with magistrates he accuses of left-wing bias. The ban would not prevent him from playing a role in politics similar, for example, to that of Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, who cannot run for office due to a vehicular manslaughter conviction but still wields significant control over his elected lawmakers. Berlusconi's PdL is the junior member of a shaky government alliance with longtime foes the center-left Democratic Party.
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di Angelo Biscardi