Parliament passes Berlusconi immunity measure


A measure that would give Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution cleared a major legislative hurdle today when it passed Italy's lower house of parliament despite opposition protest.

If approved in the senate, where the conservative leader has a solid majority, the bill would stop trials against Berlusconi and three other elected officials - the president and the two speakers of parliament - during their term in office.

Mr Berlusconi faces a graft case in Milan involving his British lawyer David Mills and prosecution in Rome into alleged collusion between Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcaster and state TV network RAI.

The 71-year-old billionaire, who is waging war on "biased" state prosecutors who he has compared to a "cancerous growth", wants to avoid possible convictions. Allies say the measure will allow top officials to govern without legal distraction.

Opposition centre-left lawmakers, weakened after their defeat in April elections, accused the prime minister of abusing his position of power to tend his personal affairs.

"It's objectively a law for only one person," said opposition leader Walter Veltroni. "When it deals with issues related to a certain someone there's a big hurry. When instead it's about the country, it gets very slow."

An opposition amendment approved by the lower house would limit immunity to a single term in office.

Mr Berlusconi describes the trials as the latest attacks against him by politically motivated prosecutors, long out to get him. He counts 2,500 hearings, 587 visits by the police and €174 million in legal fees in the 14 years since he entered politics.