Riots break out in Italy as Berlusconi wins no-confidence votes



Riots break out in Italy as Berlusconi wins no-confidence votes Rome: Premier Silvio Berlusconi has survived a confidence vote in the Italian Senate, but another, riskier vote follows in the lower house.

He won by a margin of three votes, following a tense session of the house and amid large protests in the capital.

Berlusconi had been expected to win the Senate vote on a motion in support of the government that had been brought by his allies. The vote Tuesday was 162-135.

The showdown in parliament follows a dramatic fallout with his one-time closest ally, Gianfranco Fini. The breakup potentially deprives Berlusconi of a majority in the lower house, and that vote later Tuesday will hang on a few undecided lawmakers.

However Berlusconi had said earlier that he is confident that he will win both votes.

Earlier the Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's political fate lay in the hands of a few swing lawmakers Tuesday who had to decide the outcome of parliamentary confidence votes called after a slew of sex scandals and political infighting.

Parliament debate resumed Tuesday morning, with the premier expected to win a morning vote in the Senate. But the risk lies in the lower Chamber of Deputies, where Berlusconi's split with longtime ally and Chamber speaker Gianfranco Fini has potentially deprived him of a majority. That vote is scheduled for 1200 GMT (7 a.m. EST).

The 74-year-old Berlusconi has been weakened by the breakup with Fini, allegations he partied with prostitutes and long-standing criticism that he has used his three terms as premier to pass laws to help shield him from his legal woes.

The votes could bring down his government and possibly end his nearly two decades in power.

But Berlusconi has defied critics before, surviving corruption scandals and legal problems to become Italy's longest serving premier. He has confidently insisted he'll pull off a win Tuesday and flatly rejected Fini's call to resign.

The votes are being held in a tense climate, with Rome's historic center — where parliament buildings and the premier's office are located — under a heavy police presence. Scores of anti-Berlusconi demonstrations are planned throughout the day to coincide with the votes.

If Berlusconi wins, he is assured of more time in office, even though a razor-thin majority is no guarantee of stability. If he loses, he has to resign — a move that might lead to early elections.

With a very close vote in the 630-member lower house, both factions were frantically counting the votes and trying to close ranks, as every head might count.

Berlusconi has been trying to persuade undecided lawmakers — drawing accusations of vote-buying and even an investigation by Rome prosecutors. He has rejected any such accusations, but appeared to have succeeded at least with a few lawmakers.

The Fini camp appeared less than rock-solid, with some lawmakers expressing doubt about voting against the government, fearing the consequences of provoking a political crisis with no resolution in sight.

On Monday, Berlusconi appeared before both houses of parliament to press his case that lawmakers should continue to support his government.

He insisted that his government had successfully protected Italy from becoming engulfed by the eurozone's debt crisis. He warned they risked plunging Italy into financial instability at a time of crisis if they force him to step down and end Italy's 62nd postwar government.

The premier also offered to negotiate a new legislative agenda that would allow the government to survive until parliamentary elections are held in 2013. He promised to shuffle his Cabinet to give positions to those forces who support him in the votes.

Clashes with police

As news of the vote spread across Rome, violent protests broke out with people torching cars, smashing windows and clashing with police.

Police fired tear gas, and officials said around 40 protestors and at least three police officers were injured in the clashes. The clashes coincided with a peaceful march by several thousand anti-Berlusconi protestors through Rome.

Many of them were students protesting cuts to university departments that the government says attract few students and take away resources from other more important areas of study.

Bureau report