Italy's president raps Berlusconi party over attacks on judges
ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday stepped into the political and legal battle surrounding Silvio Berlusconi, criticizing the former prime minister's party for a protest outside the Milan court where he is being tried.
Dozens of lawmakers from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) demonstrated on Monday outside and inside the courthouse where Berlusconi is fighting charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.
In an unusually strong statement issued after meeting PDL leaders, Napolitano expressed "strong regret" over "a political protest without precedent inside the Palace of Justice of Milan" and "the re-emergence of tensions and clashes between politicians and the justice system".
He said he would meet later on Tuesday with the ruling body of Italian magistrates. Its members have protested repeatedly about Berlusconi's attacks on prosecutors and judges, whom he calls a "cancer of democracy".
Monday's incident was the latest in a long series of clashes between Berlusconi and magistrates, stretching back over the two decades he has been in politics.
He has faced a string of trials on charges ranging from tax fraud to abuse of official powers and has repeatedly accused magistrates of being left-wingers out to damage him politically.
The 76-year-old media billionaire faces a spate of trials this month as he fights for his political future following an inconclusive national election in February.
He has not been present at recent hearings in the sex trial and in an appeal against a conviction for tax fraud because he is in hospital with an eye problem which prosecutors suspect is a delaying tactic.
Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement which holds the balance of power in parliament, joined the controversy on Tuesday, posting a comment on his blog expressing his "full solidarity with the Milan judges".
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Andrew Roche)
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