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October 7, 2009

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Top court deliberates on fate of Berlusconi

A TOP Italian court began deliberating yesterday whether a law granting Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other top officials immunity from prosecution is constitutional, a decision that could determine the survival of his government.

The opposition has said early elections may be necessary if the Constitutional Court rules against Berlusconi, since he might have to resign under political pressure. His allies have said they'll stand firm behind him regardless of what the court determines.

Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman-turned-politician who has a history of legal troubles stemming from his private interests, said this week that "nothing will make us betray the mandate that Italians have given us."

A decision could come this week, but could be delayed if any of the 15 judges needs more time to study the issue, Berlusconi attorney Gaetano Pecorella said.

Berlusconi's conservative allies spearheaded the immunity bill through Parliament last year, granting the premier, the Italian president and speakers of Parliament immunity from prosecution while in office.

Supporters said the law was necessary to spare Italy's top office-holders from politically motivated persecution. Critics said it was tailor-made to spare Berlusconi from trial.

At the time the law was passed, Berlusconi was on trial in Milan, accused of corruption for allegedly bribing a lawyer for false testimony.

The trial was suspended, pending review by the court. If it determines the law is unconstitutional, the Milan proceedings presumably could resume, raising the prospect of having an elected leader on trial.

Berlusconi has denied the corruption charges.

His lawyers, though, have raised the prospect that he might have to resign if the court rules against him.


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