Italian Senate expels former PM Silvio Berlusconi from parliament for six years for fraud conviction
Italian senators have expelled three-time former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament, due to his criminal conviction for tax fraud.
The Senate speaker declared Mr Berlusconi ineligible for a seat in parliament after the house rejected a series of challenges by his supporters.
"The conclusions of the committee on elections have been approved, abolishing the election of senator Silvio Berlusconi," Senate speaker Pietro Grasso said.
In August, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service, for masterminding an illegal scheme to reduce the tax bill of his media company Mediaset.
Under a law passed with Berlusconi's support last year, politicians convicted of serious criminal offences are ineligible for parliament, but his expulsion had to be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate.
The move also strips Berlusconi of his parliamentary immunity from arrest, leaving him vulnerable to prosecution in a series of other cases, where he is accused of offences including political bribery and paying for sex with a minor.
Berlusconi not 'retiring to some convent'
During the Senate vote Berlusconi addressed a rally of his supporters outside his Rome residence, promising to remain a thorn in the side of the current Prime Minister, Enrico Letta's, coalition government.
"I'm not going to be retiring to some convent," he told supporters. "We're staying here!"
Berlusconi, who has dominated politics in Italy for two decades, has already pulled his party out of Mr Letta's coalition after seven months in government, accusing leftwing opponents of mounting a "coup d'etat" to eliminate him.
The former prime minister, who owns Italy's biggest private broadcaster, has adopted an increasingly euro-sceptical tone, attacking Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Letta's euro-friendly government. Such attacks are likely to increase in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections in May.
However he no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the Italian government, which easily won a confidence vote on the 2014 budget earlier this week.
The battle over Berlusconi has already disrupted any serious overhaul of the stagnant Italian economy, which is stuck in a recession that has lasted more than two years, sending youth unemployment over 40 percent.
The centre-right split may have removed the immediate threat to Letta, who has won two confidence votes in parliament since Berlusconi's conviction. But the risk of further judicial conflict over any of the other criminal trials and investigations hanging over Berlusconi could inflame his supporters still further.
Wednesday's rally, which attracted several hundred supporters, was smaller than many previous protests but Berlusconi retains a solid core of backing.
"Not only is he being judged but it's a form of humiliation," said Gianluca d'Avanzo, a 40-year-old office worker from the southern region of Puglia who came to Rome for the demonstration. "They are doing this to a man who has done so much for Italy. We are a country of ungrateful people."
Berlusconi joined Letta's Democratic Party in an unlikely coalition after an election in February but relations were rocky from the start, worsened by rows about tax policy and tensions over Berlusconi's tax fraud conviction in August.