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Riots break out in Rome as Berlusconi survives no-confidence votes

Italy's divisive prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has managed to survive no-confidence votes in both houses of parliament. But his government only has a bare majority, making it difficult for it to govern.

Police cars on fire in Rome

Some 40 protestors and at least three police officers were injured

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi narrowly survived a test of his grip on power as both houses of parliament on Tuesday voted to keep him in office.

The no-confidence motion was rejected in the lower house by a razor-thin margin of 314 votes to 311 with two abstentions. Earlier Berlusconi had received a more comfortable majority of confidence in the Senate.

A defeat in either of the houses would have forced Berlusconi to resign.

Clashes with police

As news of the vote spread across Rome, violent protests broke out with people torching cars, smashing windows and clashing with police.

Silvio Berlusconi on phone

Berlusconi may have difficulties governing with such a slim majority

Police fired tear gas, and officials said around 40 protestors and at least three police officers were injured in the clashes. The clashes coincided with a peaceful march by several thousand anti-Berlusconi protestors through Rome on Tuesday.

Many of them were students protesting cuts to university departments that the government says attract few students and take away resources from other more important areas of study.

Corruption and sex scandals

Tuesday's votes come after a year fraught with corruption and sex scandals involving Berlusconi, who is also famous for his verbal gaffes.

In addition a split with former ally Gianfranco Fini has cost him a secure parliamentary majority, meaning Berlusconi's government will likely be unable to carry out any major reforms.

Italy's economy is in serious trouble and the country is carrying one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world, running at almost 120 percent of gross domestic product.

Gianfranco Fini

Fini was once Berlusconi's closest ally

This and the scandals surrounding the Italian government have caused the 74-year-old media tycoon's popularity ratings to plummet. Recent surveys show that less than 30 percent of Italians wanted Berlusconi to finish his current term.

Corruption charges

But waning popularity is only one of Berlusconi's problems. Italy's high court will soon hand down a ruling on the constitutionality of a law passed by Berlusconi to protect himself from prosecution while prime minister. If the law is deemed invalid, he will face charges of corrupting a judge.

Berlusconi took power for the first time in 1994, winning three elections and transforming Italy's political landscape. But now, he faces some rocky times ahead.

Authors: Andrew Bowen, Timothy Jones (AP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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