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October 10, 2009

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Berlusconi: I'm the best prime minister in history

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday dismissed suggestions he should step down for the good of Italy's image, saying he was the only person qualified to lead the country now and by far the best in Italian history.

Berlusconi, speaking at his first news conference since Italy's top court lifted his immunity from prosecution and opened the way for a resumption of corruption trials against him, also said he was the man most persecuted by judges "in the entire history of the world."

Berlusconi was asked by a reporter about calls by critics that he step down because his personal and legal problems damaged Italy's image abroad.

"The reality is completely the opposite," he said. "In my opinion, and not only mine, I am the best prime minister we can find today."

Smaller opposition parties and a number of editorials in foreign publications, including yesterday's Financial Times, have called on 73-year-old Berlusconi to resign.

In a major blow for the premier, the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that a law granting him immunity from prosecution while he is in office violates the constitution. His lawyer said two trials against him could resume in two to three months, but he remained confident of acquittal.

Berlusconi's comments about being the only man for Italy's current political season also appeared to be a message to those within his centre-right bloc who are said to be seeking a successor in Gianfranco Fini, lower house speaker and the second most important centre-right leader.

Berlusconi told reporters he was "a dam against the left in Italy," again accused the country's president and the Constitutional Court of being politically biased, and said judges who rule against him are "trying to subvert the will of the electorate."

The immunity law, one of Berlusconi's first acts after winning last year's election, halted all the cases against him, including one in which he is accused of bribing British lawyer David Mills to give false testimony to protect his businesses.

Mills' own, separate appeals trial resumed yesterday and his lawyers said they would call Berlusconi as a witness.

Another trial, accusing Berlusconi of tax fraud and false accounting in the purchase of TV rights by his Mediaset broadcaster, was also frozen.

Some commentators have warned that tension stemming from the court ruling could destabilize Italy's political landscape and spill over into the economy.


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