Berlusconi returns to work with a spring in his step

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The Independent Online

On his first day back at work almost a month after he was attacked, Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was busy yesterday working out a three-pronged strategy to regain his immunity from prosecution.

At lunch with the justice minister, his most faithful party allies and his own lawyer, Mr Berlusconi discussed three draft bills – two of which could be approved by March – designed to rid him of his legal headaches.

Two trials for corruption and tax fraud against Mr Berlusconi were allowed to resume last October when Italy's top court ruled that a law passed by his government and shielding him from prosecution while in office was unconstitutional.

Since then, the 73-year old media tycoon, who says he has been hounded by "communist" magistrates since he entered politics in 1994 and denies charges against him, has sought to restore his immunity and have pending trials stopped.

Riding on a wave of sympathy after a mentally unstable man broke his nose and teeth in mid-December, Mr Berlusconi has denounced a climate of hate and split the opposition with a call for dialogue on political reforms – starting with the judiciary.

"Let's carry on now," the smiling premier told supporters waving a "welcome back" banner outside his Rome residence. "I have a little scar here," he said, pointing to his injured cheek. "But my muscles are very strong, you'll see."

Today, the government is due to submit to parliament a bill that would drastically cut the duration of Italy's slow trials, setting a total six-year limit on the three stages of court cases. The opposition and magistrates say it is yet another law, designed for one person, meant to stop in their tracks the trials against the premier.

A second bill expected to land in parliament this week gives the premier a "legitimate impediment" to attending court cases against him because of his official commitments, meaning hearings will have to be rescheduled against him.

The third measure being prepared by Mr Berlusconi's allies is a new immunity law that could be extended to all members of parliament– something Italy abolished in the mid-1990s after the Tangentopoli bribery scandals. REUTERS.