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Berlusconi: Expulsion bid threat to Italian democracy

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

ROME — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday that his expulsion from the Senate would endanger democracy, as a committee from the upper house of Parliament voted in favor of the move as a result of his tax fraud conviction.

The expulsion needs to be ratified by a Senate plenary vote. Committee chair Dario Stefano said it would take place “within 20 days,” but it remains unclear whether senators would vote in secret or publicly.

“Today, the basic principles of the rule of law have faltered,” Berlusconi said in a statement. “When the rule of law is violated, democracy is shot through the heart.”

The former premier faces losing his seat because of a probity law that excludes convicted lawmakers from parliament. But he claims the law to be unconstitutional because it penalizes people for crimes they committed before it entered into force.

His rivals counter that the principle of non-retroactivity, normally valid in criminal matters, should not apply to laws setting the requirements for holding public office.

Berlusconi complained that the Senate panel, where his People of Freedom, or PDL, party is in a minority, was biased against him — just like the judges who convicted him. Earlier Friday, he passed on the chance to defend himself before the committee.

“The writing was already on the wall,” PDL Senate speaker Renato Schifani said. “Whatever the final outcome in the chamber, we are sure that Silvio Berlusconi will remain the undisputed leader” of Italy's conservatives.

The 77-year-old “remains the leader and the role model for half of the Italian population,” said Schifani's counterpart in the lower assembly, Renato Brunetta.

Schifani had called for Friday's vote to be called off because panel member Vito Crimi, who hails from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, posted satirical messages against Berlusconi on his Facebook page.

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