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
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...