Berlusconi backs South Stream pipeline

Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin, meeting in St Petersburg, have given new impetus to the race to supply gas to Europe. The Italian prime minister is joining his Russian counterpart in pushing the South Stream project over another pipeline backed by the EU.

The announcement followed discussions by video phone with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

South Stream, said Putin, had to be constructed quicker than North Stream, a third pipeline that will run under the Baltic Sea and then pass through Scandinavia. The Russian premier said it was possible because the three countries already had experience working together on another building project on Turkish soil, the Blue Stream construction.

South Stream is a joint project involving Russia’s Gazprom and Italy’s ENI. After running under the Black Sea, two possible routes are being studied to supply gas to western Europe.

The agreement was sealed back in August during a one-day visit by Vladimir Putin to Ankara. The Turkish prime minister said he saw South Stream as a parallel rather than a rival project to the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline – as both would be needed in the future.

Embattled Berlusconi slams foreign press

euronews-Silvio Berlusconi has launched a scathing attack on the foreign press at the end of a tumultuous week for the Italian prime minister.

Already dogged by accusations of sex with prostitutes, Berlusconi’s own law giving him immunity from prosecution was declared invalid by Italy’s top court.

He told a rally for his People of Freedom Party that foreign newspapers had made “absurd and ridiculous accusations that damage the image of the country.” He added, using terms that are unsuitable for broadcast, that the accusations badmouth Italy, its prime minister, and its democracy.

The Constitutional Court’s decision to invalidate the immunity law is supported by nearly six in ten Italians, according to opinion polls on Sunday morning.

But only a quarter of people asked thought there should be elections to cut short Berlusconi’s term of office, which is due to end in 2013.

The verdict paves the way for the resumption of trials against him relating to allegations of bribery and false accounting at his Mediaset company.

Berlusconi no longer above the law

Italy’s top court has ruled that a law giving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution is unconstitutional.

euronews channel-The law was one of Berlusconi’s first acts after he formed his latest government last year.

Today’s verdict paves the way for two trials against him relating to false accounting and bribery to be re-opened. It could also spell trouble for his government.

A judicial source at the Constitutional Court told Reuters news agency that the 15 judges decided the legal immunity violated the principle that all citizens are equal before the law. They added that immunity would require a change to the constitution, not just a law passed in parliament.

A spokesman for Berlusconi has said the verdict is politically-motivated and that the prime minister would stay on in office.

Italy’s top court reviews Berlusconi’s legal immunity

Does the immunity from prosecution that Silvio Berlusconi enjoys violate Italy’s constitution?

euronews channel-That is the question the country’s top court is deliberating in a politically-sensitive hearing that could put the prime minister back in the dock.

As premier, Berlusconi is protected under a law passed soon after his return to power last year.

Defending the legislation, the conservative media mogul’s lawyer Gaetano Pecorella said he expected the court would find it constitutional and would examine the case from a judicial and not a political point of view.

But for Berlusconi’s critics, the law was tailor-made to put a stop to legal proceedings against him.

Expressing confidence in the court, centre-left opposition member of parliament Rosy Bindi said the government would do well to remember that in a democratic country all citizens are equal before the law.

Prosecutors in frozen legal proceedings against Berlusconi asked the Constitutional Court to re-examine the immunity law. Facing accusations including bribery, tax fraud and false accounting, he has denied any wrongdoing.

Mass demonstration in Rome to defend press freedom

AFP – More than 100,000 people rallied for press freedom in Rome’s central square on Saturday, protesting that scandal-plagued Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants to muzzle the media.

“Berlusconi is bad for Italy’s health,” read one banner emulating warnings on cigarette packets at the demonstration organised by the Italian Press Federation, opposition groups and left-wing trades unionists at Piazza del Popolo.

The square was packed with protesters holding green, white and red balloons in the colours of Italy’s flag. Another banner read, “we are all scoundrels”, a term Berlusconi used to describe some TV journalists.

“We ask the prime minister to stop the campaign of accusations against journalists and to tell the truth,” Franco Siddi, head of the Italian Press Federation, told the crowd.

Organisers said 350,000 took part in the protest, while city authorities put the figure at 60,000. AFP correspondents estimated the crowd in the square at more than 100,000.

The protest comes after months of revelations about Berlusconi’s private life spurred the prime minister cum media tycoon to file a series of lawsuits against newspapers in Italy, France and Spain.

His supporters have also called on Italians to stop paying their public television viewing fees.

Il Giornale, a newspaper belonging to the Berlusconi family’s media empire Mediaset, recently fumed: “On Rai (public TV), it’s anti-Berlusconism seven days a week,”

Mediaset also owns three private TV stations while the government has de facto control over Rai.

Accusations of an anti-Berlusconi bias have spiked since Rai 2 twice invited to its studios a call girl who claims to have accepted money to spend the night with the prime minister.

The government threatened to eliminate the show in question, “Annozero”, which claimed an audience of seven million, or 29 percent of the viewing public, the second time call girl Patrizia D’Addario appeared on the show Thursday.

The government has suspended the contracts of the journalists who work for Annozero.

Berlusconi has also sued the director of La Reppublica newspaper, Ezio Mauro, who has published 10 questions asking the prime minister to clarify the nature of his relationship with a teenage model.

On Friday, the head of the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, said Berlusconi was on the way towards becoming the first European head of government to join the group’s “list of predators of freedom of the press.”

Recalling that in June Berlusconi urged businesses not to advertise in the left-leaning La Repubblica daily, Julliard told a news conference: “We know of similar cases only in Belarus and Zimbabwe.”

Berlusconi on Friday dismissed Saturday’s planned protest as a “farce,” saying: “Freedom is greater in Italy than in any other Western country.”

Enrico Mentana, a former star Mediaset journalist who quit after an editorial dispute, suggested that freedom of the press in Italy did not face a greater threat than before.

“Here you can read either that Berlusconi is a god or an imbecile, a saint or a confirmed delinquent,” he said.

“Each time, it’s double vision, but with a flagrant imbalance in favour of the prime minister, who by the way is a reflection of political life with an extremely weakened left,” Mentana said.

In fact, while Berlusconi is a favourite target on the few satirical or political debate programmes on Rai 2 and Rai 3, he enjoys fawning admiration from Rai 1, which is traditionally close to the government.

The station accorded the prime minister two hours recently during which he defended his policies without interruption.

“Happy birthday! You are at home here,” Rai 1’s news announcer said without an ounce of irony last Tuesday, when Berlusconi turned 73.

Berlusconi hit by more damaging headlines

Silvio Berlusconi is the focus of new, damaging media reports.

Two respected Italian newspapers – Corriere della Sera and La Stampa – have published new allegations of sex scandals.

In the latest in a series of claims, it is alleged that some 30 women attended close to 20 parties hosted by the prime minister and some were paid to have sex with guests.

There is rising speculation about whether Berlusconi will survive the scandals, but many doubt he will be forced to resign.

One woman in Rome said: “I don’t think this means the end of Berlusconi and it wouldn’t be fair if it did.”

A man said: “This is a troubling time in politics, and personal situations are now often used to damage politicians, on the right and the left. I think in private everyone is free to do what they want.”

Another woman said: “I don’t really care, but I think it’s pure gossip and rubbish.”

But the Italian media says Berlusconi has lost support among Catholic voters and even some of his allies confirm there is speculation about the start of his decline.

The latest claims come from leaked evidence from a court case in southern Italy, where lurid allegations about sex and wild parties involving Berlusconi have emerged.

The prime minister has denied that he has ever paid for sex, and claims his critics are fueling the damaging headlines that have dogged him for months.

Media row strains Berlusconi’s relations with church

Relations between Silvio Berlusconi and Italy’s Catholic Church have been strained by a war of words in the press.

Il Giornale, a national newspaper owned by the premier’s brother Paolo, fuelled the spat.

It dug up a sex scandal involving Dino Boffo, the influential director of Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The Catholic paper had criticised Berlusconi for his lifestyle and Boffo was accused of hypocrisy.

But the Church does not see it that way and is standing by Boffo. Stressing its support, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Bishops’ Conference, denounced the attack by the Berlusconi family’s paper as “sickening and very serious.”

While Berlusconi has publicly disassociated himself from the article, reports say it is the reason why the Vatican cancelled a meeting between its number two official and the prime minister.

Berlusconi has launched legal action against media in Italy and abroad over coverage of his private life.