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Italian parliament gives Berlusconi symbolic victory in sex scandal

Silvio Berlusconi has been hanging on to power by a string, hit with a number of scandals and political setbacks. But he gained a symbolic vote of support from parliament that signified he will not be leaving soon.

Silvio Berlscuoni

Berlusconi has been hit with numerous scandals

Italy's embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi caught a small break from parliament late on Thursday when lawmakers rejected a request from prosecutors to search the offices of his accountant.

The vote, 315-298, gave Berlusconi a much more comfortable majority than another test of his grip on parliament when he barely survived a no-confidence vote last December.

Although the political support of lawmakers was good news for the prime minister, the victory was far more symbolic than substantive. Prosecutors are soon expected to request a trial against Berlusconi for abuse of power and paying for sex with a girl under 18.

The requested search was of the offices of Giuseppe Spinelli, Berlusconi's loyal accountant for the past three decades who prosecutors claim handled payments to women picked by Berlusconi for raunchy parties at his villa. One of these women is a nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heart Robber, whom prosecutors say Berlusconi paid to have sex with when she was 17.

Ruby the Heart Robber

Prosecutors say Berlusconi paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl nicknamed Ruby

Berlusconi has said he never paid for sex and that the prosecutors, based in Milan, do not have authority in the case.

As a member of parliament, the prime minister is immune to arrests and prosecution unless his colleagues vote against him.

Taxation powers

In a parallel action, Berlusconi's cabinet approved a package of reforms to give more taxation power to town councils, despite a parliamentary panel rejecting it earlier in the day.

"Finally city governments will have the resources without having to beg for them with cap in hand," said Umberto Bossi, head of the Northern League, Berlusconi's most important coalition partner which pushed the vote. "The money will remain in the territory where it is produced."

The parliamentary committee on federalism had split 15-15 on the measure. Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the largest opposition Democratic party, called the law "an unbearable slap in the face to parliament."

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner

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