Berlusconi wins vote on 'gagging law'

Italy's government won a confidence vote yesterday on a draft bill curbing police wiretaps and punishing media that print transcripts, defying fierce criticism from the opposition, magistrates and the press.

The vote in the Senate descended into chaos when members of the opposition occupied the government benches, and the session was suspended twice until they were escorted away by ushers. Most centre-left senators then walked out of the room, refusing to take part in the vote on what they called a "gagging law", which was won by 164 to 25.

The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, had called the confidence vote to speed up the bill's approval, ignoring an appeal by critics in the media and judiciary to scrap measures they say will help criminals and muzzle the press. Mr Berlusconi says the bill is needed to protect privacy, but the opposition accuses the government of scrambling to cover up corruption with yet another tailor-made law that follows measures to shield him from prosecution while in office.

The bill, which will now return to the lower house for final approval, languished in parliament for months. But the government quickly dusted it off after newspapers printed leaked transcripts from a high-profile corruption inquiry into public works contracts that has tainted Mr Berlusconi's cabinet and forced the Industry Minister, Claudio Scajola, to resign.