Berlusconi returns to the dock to face accusations of bribing judges

With Italy's turn at the rotating EU presidency only two weeks away, Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, takes the stand in a Milan courtroom todayaccused of bribing judges.

The trial has been in progress for three years, but this will be only the second time he has addressed the court. Last month the billionaire media magnate made a splenetic speech in the courtroom, with no reference to the crimes he is alleged to have committed but instead implying that political rivals, including the European commissioner Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy, had done things that deserved to be investigated.

The pugnacious display may have helped to mitigate his coalition's losses in recent local and regional elections. This time, according to one of his lawyers, Mr Berlusconi's statement will have "a tranquil and sober tone" but "will be a discourse dense with content".

If Mr Berlusconi gets his way, this could be his last court appearance for some time: today parliament begins the closing debate on a new law that is designed to give the Prime Minister and four other high office holders immunity from prosecution.