Berlusconi ban strains govt ahead of Senate vote

Uncertainty surrounds ex-premier's video message

Berlusconi ban strains govt ahead of Senate vote

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, September 17 - Tension was thick in Rome Tuesday ahead of a Senate panel vote that could spell the end of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's political career, as well as the end of the shaky government. A Senate panel is set to vote on Wednesday on whether to strip the three-time premier and media magnate of his seat in the Upper House and comply with a new anti-corruption rule that kicked in after Italy's supreme Cassation Court found him guilty last month for tax fraud, his first ever binding conviction in nearly 20 years of legal entanglements with magistrates he claims are left-wing and biased. Berlusconi's party, the centre-right People of Freedom, has vowed to pull its vital support from the executive it co-governs with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) if Senators from the PD vote to ban Berlusconi from office. Uncertainty was stirred even more by a video message Berlusconi has reportedly prepared announcing his party was withdrawing its support from Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government. Sources speculate that Berlusconi has prepared two videos ready for release. One of these was reportedly on his party, which is set to be revamped and revert to its previous name, Forza Italia. The other was thought to feature criticism of the alleged left-wing magistrates Berlusconi says are behind his conviction, allegedly as part of a plot to remove him from the political scene, and to reveal whether he intended to sink Letta's executive or not. One of these two videos was expected to be sent to broadcasters Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday's crunch meeting of the Senate panel. But according to fresh speculation, there may only be one video, shot at his home near Milan Monday, and Berlusconi may be considering re-recording it as he was not entirely satisfied with the result. The new video is expected to be released Wednesday and reportedly does not refer to the future of the government. Pre-empting the possible broadcast of either video, protesters assembled outside the headquarters of State broadcaster RAI in Rome, calling for the "propaganda" not to be shown on public airwaves. Meanwhile, Berlusconi is reportedly torn between the advice of hawks and doves in the PdL. The hawks say Berlusconi should scupper the executive and try to provoke fresh elections. The doves say provoking the end of the administration would have negative consequences for the country, which is trying to emerge from its longest recession in over two decades, as well as for the PdL and for Berlusconi himself and his business empire. Regardless, the loss of his seat appears imminent. Former justice minister Paola Severino on Tuesday called on parliament to apply the anti-corruption law named after her to Berlusconi, arguing the legitimacy of the law was at stake. "We were all in agreement" in the Mario Monti government "when, after a long and detailed process, the law was passed," she said. "When you pass a law, you believe in what you are doing. Now its application is the responsibility of the government".

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