Italian parliament debates Berlusconi expulsion
Rome: Italy`s parliament today began debating the expulsion of Silvio Berlusconi in a momentous move that will rattle but not bring down the government and leave the billionaire tycoon more at risk of arrest.
Italian Senate speaker Pietro Grasso said senators were called to discuss "the invalidation of the election of senator Berlusconi" under a law approved last year to ban convicted criminals from the parliament.
Berlusconi has asked fellow senators to delay the vote because he claims to have new evidence warranting a judicial review of the criminal conviction for tax fraud that is the basis for his probable ejection.
In an open letter to senators, Berlusconi said voting against him "would shame you in front of your children, your voters and all Italians", telling them that the vote was "not about me, but about democracy".
Thousands of supporters are expected to mass outside his luxury Rome residence but experts say the expulsion is highly likely to go ahead and marks another step in Berlusconi`s slow-motion demise.
The political tensions come at an economically crucial time for Italy, which is struggling to end its longest post-war recession, and just as parliament debates next year`s budget in a bid to slash its debt and deficit.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta has called for a "non-chaotic situation in Italy" and said a division within Berlusconi`s ranks "will help stability".
A group of dissidents led by Berlusconi`s former protege, Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, broke away earlier this month to form their own grouping.
Alfano and his supporters have said they will vote against Berlusconi`s expulsion but will stay in Letta`s left-right coalition even if the ejection goes ahead.
The government will therefore not collapse even though Berlusconi`s Forza Italia party announced last day it was pulling out of the coalition after just six months of uneasy cohabitation with its leftist rivals.
But the coalition now has a much narrower majority in the Senate of around 10 seats and could be vulnerable to sniping from Berlusconi even outside parliament.
"Berlusconi is still extremely powerful, although that power is declining," said James Walston, a professor at the American University in Rome.
"He still has enormous resources, he still has his media, he still has lots of very diehard supporters inside and outside parliament," he said.
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