Riots in Rome as Berlusconi wins confidence vote

Riot police clashed with protesters last night in Rome's worst violence for years after Italy's tainted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly won a confidence vote that saved his government from collapse.

Despite a damning wave of sleaze scandals and new WikiLeaks allegations about his business dealings, the premier survived the greatest challenge to his hold on power by just three votes, sparking fights inside parliament amid claims of vote rigging.

Outside, the authorities blocked off the centre of Rome after masked demonstrators threw flares at the Senate in protest. More than 100 people were injured, including 60 police officers, as protesters set cars alight and hurled cobblestones at police. By the evening 40 protesters had been taken into police custody. Thousands more took part in rallies across Italy, including one in Milan, where protesters broke into the stock exchange building.

The vote was a major blow for the combined opposition and rebel centre-right MPs who, despite mounting allegations, failed to unseat the 74-year-old premier after two dissidents swapped sides at the last moment. There were also claims that one of the decisive votes was obtained by threats. Mr Berlusconi's leader in the Senate, Maurizio Gasparri, was spotted sticking a finger up at a television image of the premier's defeated rival, Gianfranco Fini.

The conservative premier secured 314 votes in his favour with 311 against and two abstentions in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies lower house. His government had earlier won a comfortable majority in the upper house.

Before the vote, Mr Berlusconi had stressed the need to avoid bringing down his government in a time of economic and financial uncertainty. However, analysts at Italian bank UniCredit said political uncertainty would "only be dissipated in case of a clear majority".

Analysts predicted that the narrow majority would lead to continuing rocky government. "With a majority of three, and it might become less over time, it's extremely difficult to govern," said Paul Ginsborg, professor of contemporary history at the University of Florence.

The consensus emerging yesterday was that Mr Berlusconi's government would stagger on for now, but that fresh elections were likely in the new year, despite it having an official mandate till 2013. Thanks to Italy's fragmented and dysfunctional party political system, however, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Mr Berlusconi could be re-elected then, as the head of the largest single grouping.

Mr Berlusconi is unlikely to heal the bitter rift between himself and the centre-right rebels led by lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, his former coalition ally. "You can give us lessons on how to become rich, but certainly not on how to stop the political decay," Italo Bocchino, Mr Fini's top lieutenant, told the premier in parliament yesterday.

Mr Berlusconi's government has been accused of bribing wavering MPs to get vital last-minute votes – something it has denied. Fists flew in the chamber following insults aimed at Catia Polidori, one of Mr Fini's supporters who decided to vote with the government at the last moment.

Mr Fini's political standing has been severely dented after failing to bring down Mr Berlusconi. He split from his former ally after months of bickering over policy differences and unhappiness over Mr Berlusconi's sex and financial scandals. Former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, who now heads the opposition Italy of Values party, told MPs that the Prime Minister "was not in politics to serve the country but only for his personal affairs"; an accusation underlined by fresh WikiLeaks claims that Mr Berlusconi's government deliberately set out to help the mogul's broadcast empire at the expense of arch-rival Sky Italia.

One historian, Ernesto Galli della Loggia, writing in Corriere della Sera, noted that Mr Berlusconi had merely shown his ability to win elections. He said that despite completely dominating Italian politics for the past 15 years, the billionaire mogul had achieved little of note for the country. Italy is the only European nation where the average person is poorer than he or she was 10 years ago.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum