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October 30, 2009

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Judges see red and threaten strike after Berlusconi's attack

THE long-running battle between Silvio Berlusconi and the Italian judiciary flared up again yesterday as the main magistrates' association held demonstrations in courtrooms to protest the premier's latest attack on prosecutors and judges.

Berlusconi has a history of legal woes stemming from his business interests in Milan before he entered politics in the mid-1990s. He lashed out on Tuesday at what he said were communist judges and prosecutors intent on destroying him.

The judges' association branded the comments "groundless and ridiculous" and threatened a strike as judges and prosecutors gathered in protest in courtrooms in Milan, Rome and other cities.

The accusation that the judiciary is dominated by communists is not new for Berlusconi. But the latest attack came with the premier facing two trials in Milan after an immunity law shielding him from prosecution while in office was overturned earlier this month.

"The real Italian anomaly is not Silvio Berlusconi," the premier said on TV. "The Italian anomaly are communist prosecutors and communist judges in Milan who have attacked him since Silvio Berlusconi has entered politics and taken power away from communists."

"I wonder: Is Silvio Berlusconi really the most criminal entrepreneur in the history of the world?"

Of the two cases pending for Berlusconi, one is a tax fraud trial over the purchase of TV rights by his Mediaset broadcasting company. This trial is scheduled to resume next month.

The other is a corruption case in which Berlusconi is accused of ordering the 1997 payment of at least US$600,000 to British lawyer David Mills in exchange for the lawyer's false testimony in court to protect Berlusconi. No date has been set.

The premier has maintained his innocence.

This week, an appeals court in Milan upheld Mill's conviction on corruption charges in the lawyer's portion of the trial. Mills has maintained his innocence and said he will appeal, but the verdict dealt a blow to Berlusconi.

Magistrates maintain Berlusconi want to delegitimize and intimidate the whole judiciary.

"The accusations of a political bias is among the most defamatory ones that can be thrown at a judge," Giuseppe Cascini, the secretary of the association of magistrates, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "Certainly if things continue to go on this way a strike will be inevitable."


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