Rome

Senate panel starts meetings over Berlusconi office ban

Tensions high amid PdL threats to topple govt

Senate panel starts meetings over Berlusconi office ban

Rome, September 18 - The Senate panel who will decide the political fate of Silvio Berlusconi began meetings Wednesday ahead of a vote scheduled late in the day over whether to strip the three-time premier of his seat in the Upper House, following a conviction for tax fraud, and possibly thrust the country into a crisis of government. The much-anticipated vote, scheduled for 20:00 local time, has been put off for over a week surrounding threats from the media magnate's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party to bring down the left-right executive it co-governs with the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of Premier Enrico Letta if PD Senators make good on their promise to vote to ratify Berlusconi's ban from office. The ban is part of a new anti-corruption rule that kicked in after Italy's supreme Cassation Court found Berlusconi guilty August 1 in his first-ever binding conviction in nearly 20 years of legal entanglements with magistrates he claims are left-wing and biased. 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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