Berlusconi wins brief respite from sex scandals

Berlusconi wins brief respite from sex scandals Rome: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won some brief respite from raging sex scandals when parliament rejected a request from prosecutors to search his accountant's offices.

The vote was carried by 315 votes in favour to 298 against -- a far higher majority than the beleaguered Berlusconi has enjoyed recently, after scraping through a no-confidence vote in parliament in December last year.

The victory is a largely symbolic one as prosecutors are expected next week to request a trial against Berlusconi for abuse of power in an inquiry involving a young nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart-Stealer.

The accusation is part of a wider investigation into the 74-year-old Italian leader on allegations of hand-picking prostitutes for wild parties and paying to have sex with Ruby when she was still under 18 -- a criminal offence.

The prime minister's loyal accountant for the past 30 years, Giuseppe Spinelli, is alleged to have handled payments to the women, including arranging rent-free accommodation in a suburban complex built by Berlusconi in the 1970s.

Spinelli's office is considered as being under parliamentary privilege because of Berlusconi's status as a member of parliament. The opposition has accused Berlusconi of hiding from prosecution behind his status for years.

The latest scandal over Ruby, whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, erupted on January 14 and came after a top court modified a temporary immunity law that has shielded the Italian leader from impending corruption trials.

Berlusconi has dismissed all the allegations against him as a plot by prosecutors and has pledged to continue governing as normal, putting together an economic plan aimed at boosting Italy's sluggish growth rate.

The government has also pledged to move ahead with a controversial federalism programme to delegate greater powers to Italy's regions, a key demand of Berlusconi's last remaining major ally -- the Northern League party.

The government yesterday failed to win backing from a parliamentary committee for a law to grant greater tax raising powers to cities but later approved a similar measure by decree anyway at an emergency cabinet meeting.