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Politics

Berlusconi vows to stay in politics despite Senate vote

Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi has vowed to remain in Italian politics whether the Senate ejects him or not. The comments came ahead of a Senate committee vote which paved the way for his possible expulsion next month.

An Italian 23-member Senate committee voted 15-1 on Wednesday night against a measure that would have allowed former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to retain his seat in the upper house, which had been introduced by his People of Freedom (PDL) party . Although the vote had no immediate effect on the controversial figure's Senate seat, it was seen as foreshadowing for an upcoming vote by the full Senate in October to strip him of his political power.

Ahead of the vote, Berlusconi vowed to remain in politics no matter the Senate's decision.

"I will always be with you, at your side, expelled from parliament or not," Berlusconi said during a televised speech Wednesday evening.

"It is not the parliamentary seat that makes a leader," he added.

Berlusconi has held onto power despite numerous scandals in recent years, including allegations of soliciting sex from a minor, abuse of power and tax fraud. This year, Italy's top court upheld a four-year prison sentence - commuted to one year - for tax fraud, which he will serve under house arrest or through community service. The seven-year jail term he received for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor is pending an appeal.

Italy implemented a law in 2012 ruling that any parliamentarian sentenced to two years or more in jail would be excluded from politics. Berlusconi's supporters argue that it cannot apply retroactively for crimes committed before the law's implementation.

Removal threatens PM's government

PDL senators walked out of Wednesday evening's vote, a direct reference to previous threats of pulling out the government. Berlusconi's PDL party have already vowed to abandon Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition if the Senate ousts Berlusconi, a move which could undermine the country's economic stability as it attempts to recover from its worst post-war recession.

However, Berlusconi made no mention of a PDL withdrawal during his televised address. He instead repeated previous claims of innocence in criminal allegations and pointed to the country's left influence as the culprit for his political woes.

"They want to get rid of me by judicial means because they have been unable to do so with democracy," he said.

The former prime minister instead called on conservative voters to support the relaunch of his Forza Italia (meaning "Go Italy") party as a way to fight influence from the left.

kms/mr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)