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Berlusconi survives no-confidence votes

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Rome (UPI) Dec 14, 2010
Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, troubled by sex, corruption and political scandals that would have forced any other leader in Western Europe out of office, Tuesday won a pair of no-confidence motions to secure his position at the helm of government.

Berlusconi, 74, won a much anticipated vote in the lower house of Parliament by a margin of three votes. Hours earlier, he survived a motion in the Senate on a 162-135 vote. A defeat in either vote would have led to his resignation and early elections.

Outside the closed-off government district, an estimated 100,000 protesters marching through Rome Tuesday called for Berlusconi's resignation. They clashed with police, who fired tear gas, The New York Times reports.

In the lower house of Parliament, the situation was similarly tense. Scuffles broke out after two female lawmakers who had been expected to vote against Berlusconi said they had changed their minds.

Days before the vote, opposition leaders called on authorities to investigate unconfirmed press reports that Berlusconi bought the support of undecided parliamentarians, offering them jobs or mortgage payments in exchange for their vote.

When Berlusconi's 314-311 victory was announced, his supporters erupted in cheers.

Berlusconi fought hard for this victory in the run-up to the votes. The media mogul-turned-statesman Monday in a speech before the Senate warned that ousting him would plunge notoriously indebted Italy into an economic crisis.

He added that he had increased Italy's standing in global politics with his leadership in the Greek and Irish debt crises. In a bid to soothe his critics, Berlusconi vowed to extend a hand to a group of disgruntled center-right deputies led by Gianfranco Fini who had left the government and initiated the no-confidence motion.

Berlusconi's supporters point to his efforts to save state-owned airline Alitalia, his timely response to the L'Aquila earthquake and his behind-the-scenes diplomacy that helped end the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia as reasons why he should remain in power.

Yet in recent weeks, the premier's political clout has been damaged by an inability to spark growth in Italy's economy, allegations of corruption and his alleged links to teenage girls.

Italian prosecutors have launched an inquiry into reports that a 17-year-old dancer from Morocco nicknamed "Ruby" was paid to attend his parties. Berlusconi called a Milan police station to free Ruby when she was detained for alleged theft. In his defense, Berlusconi has said he merely pitied the girl.

The premier is notorious for his passion for beautiful women -- he has even placed some of them in top Cabinet posts.

Berlusconi's second wife filed for divorce last year after allegations of a relationship between the prime minister and an 18-year-old model surfaced in the press.

He has since been hit in the face with a replica of the Milan cathedral, labeled by U.S. diplomats in confidential cables as "feckless, vain and ineffective" and has had to face record-low popularity ratings. But all that didn't stop Berlusconi from winning two votes Tuesday.

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