Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi attacks magistrates as "dictators," and says Italy is not a democracy, threatening to bring down the Monti government. Berlusconi says he will not run in the next election.
LESMO, ITALY (OCTOBER 27, 2012) (REUTERS) - Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday (October 27) his centre-right bloc may withdraw its support from the government of Mario Monti, a move that could throw Italy into political chaos ahead of next April's national elections.
Berlusconi also said he would not be a candidate for prime minister in national elections next April. Earlier on Saturday he had said he would "stay in the field", prompting speculation he had changed his mind after a Milan court convicted him of tax fraud on Friday (October 26).
"I confirm my decision not to put myself forward as candidate for prime minister, in order to facilitate the re-grouping of all the moderates," Berlusconi told reporters during a news conference at his private residence in Lesmo, close to Milan.
During the lengthy news conference Berlusconi threatened to bring down the government of his successor Mario Monti.
He also condemned the Monti government for following what he called the "hegemonistic" economic policies of Germany and accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy of seeking to hurt his image when he was prime minister.
"For a long time I was in a contradictory situation when it came to Germany and Franceand the position of Germany. I don't know if the two things are connected, very likely they are, and what happened was that an initiative to deteriorate my image was carried out. You'll remember the smiles of Sarkozy and Merkel on television, that was an attempt to assassinate my credibility internationally," he said.
Berlusconi was sentenced on Friday to four years in jail for tax fraud relating to his media empire. The court sentence included a five-year ban on running for political office but since the sentence does not become executive until all appeals are exhausted, Berlusconi could run for parliament in the next national elections in April.
The 76-year-old billionaire media magnate, who was convicted three times during the 1990s in the first degree before being cleared by higher courts, has the right to appeal the ruling two more times before the sentence becomes definitive.
Berlusconi has often accused magistrates of waging a political war against him.
"We are in a moment in time in which I can say that the Italian justice system cannot go on like this. Ours is not a democracy but a dictatorship of the magistrature and I believe we cannot continue supporting this situation," he said.
The Monti government of non-elected technocrats is supported by the centre-left, the centre-right and the centre. It would lose its majority and have to resign if the entire centre-right yanked its confidence. Berlusconi is president of the centre-right PDL party.
Berlusconi gave no precise timing for when the decision on whether to keep supporting Monti or not would be made.
In an interview earlier on Saturday he had suggested that he changed his mind and might not leave front-line politics as expected, but he later confirmed that he would not be a candidate for prime minister. He did not rule out running for parliament.
"Meanwhile, I am not leaving the field but staying in the field. I have never withdrawn, I have only withdrawn from the candidature for prime minister," Berlusconi said.
"We have to recognise, on one side, the fact that the initiative of this government is a continuation of a spiral of recession for our economy and on the other the fact that if the confidence in the government was withdrawn there would be a situation interpreted in a certain way by the world of finance. Together with my collaborators we will decide in the next few days whether it is better to immediately withdraw our confidence in this government or keep it, given the elections that are scheduled," he added.
Monti took office as prime minister last November when Italy's bond yields were soaring. He has pushed through tax hikes, spending cuts and a pension overhaul to cut public debt which is running at 126 percent of gross domestic product, according to theInternational Monetary Fund.
Unemployment in Italy has risen to 10.7 percent, its highest level since monthly records began in 2004, and unions are locked in disputes with companies over plant closures and layoffs.
Berlusconi, whose "bunga bunga" parties with aspiring starlets won worldwide notoriety, has taken a largely backseat role in politics since he was forced to step down, but he remains the dominant figure within the PDL.
His standing with the general public has fallen sharply after an array of sexual and political scandals and an opinion poll last month gave him just 18 percent support, well behind Angelino Alfano, the PDL's 42-year-old secretary.
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