Opposition rallies in Rome against Berlusconi govt

* Thousands march ahead of Tuesday confidence vote

* Opposition sees “big moment for Italian democracy”

* Berlusconi says creating crisis was “irresponsible”

By Catherine Hornby

ROME, Dec 11 (BestGrowthStock) – Thousands protested in Rome on
Saturday against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ahead of a
no-confidence motion next week that could sink his government.

Families, pensioners and workers from across Italy streamed
into squares in the capital to take part in marches organised by
the opposition Democratic Party (PD).

“Berlusconi can buy what he wants, but not this square, not
this Italy,” said the PD’s Enrico Letta, surrounded by
flag-waving supporters.

“It’s a big moment for Italian democracy. Rome is full of a
great and determined presence demanding clean politics.”

Berlusconi, a media billionaire, no longer enjoys an
automatic majority in parliament since Gianfranco Fini, the
speaker of the lower house and co-founder of the People of
Freedom party, broke with him over a string of scandals.

Fini and his supporters say the 74-year-old prime minister
must resign or they will vote with the opposition against him on
Tuesday and force him to step down.

Berlusconi told supporters at a rally in Milan on Saturday
his opponents were using smears to discredit him and that the
ensuing political instability had harmed the country.

“IRRESPONSIBLE CRISIS”

“An unimaginable situation has emerged that has unleashed an
irrational and irresponsible crisis which is far from Italy’s
interests,” he said. Berlusconi has repeatedly said he is
confident of winning the vote in both houses of parliament.

Financial markets have so far been largely unmoved by the
turmoil. [ID:nLDE6AT1XS]

If the prime minister loses, he would be forced to resign, a
step which could prompt President Giorgio Napolitano to call
early elections, which would not otherwise be due until 2013.

Slogans at Saturday’s protest mocked the premier for
scandals involving teenaged girls and parties at his villa,
while others focused on judicial proceedings he is embroiled in.

“Italy will change if Berlusconi goes to jail,” read one
banner.

Two trials for corruption and tax fraud against Berlusconi
have been effectively put on hold since his government approved
a measure that allows him not to attend hearings because of a
“legitimate impediment” due to his public office.

Italy’s top court has postponed a hearing on the law
shielding him from trial from its scheduled date on Tuesday
until January to avoid a clash with the confidence vote.
[ID:LDE6B90VU]

Italian prosecutors opened an investigation on Friday into
allegations by the centre-left opposition of attempts to buy
votes in parliament ahead of the confidence vote. [ID:LDE6B91DC]

“The first urgency in Italy is to send this government and
this premier home,” Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the small Italy
of Values centre-left party was quoted as saying by Italian news
agency ANSA on Saturday.

Di Pietro, whose complaint on Friday led to the opening of
the investigation, said the situation “has reduced parliament,
the temple of democracy, into an obscene market where MPs are
prepared to sell their conscience and their dignity”.
(Editing by Andrew Roche)

Opposition rallies in Rome against Berlusconi govt