* Committee recommendation paves way for full Senate vote
* Vote follows split in former prime minister's party
* Berlusconi, followers remain defiant
By Massimiliano Di Giorgio
ROME, Oct 4 An Italian Senate committee said on
Friday former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should be
expelled from parliament due to his conviction for tax fraud,
paving the way for a final decision this month that could seal
his political fate.
The recommendation to kick out the man who has dominated
Italian politics for the past two decades was taken by a
cross-party committee of 23 Senators dominated by the
centre-right leader's political opponents.
Though not the final word, the committee's decision marks a
professional and personal defeat for the media tycoon who became
one of Europe's best-known and most colourful politicians. It
comes on the heels of a humbling coup against Berlusconi from
part of his own People of Freedom party (PDL).
The recommendation, passed by 15 votes to 8, must be
ratified later this month by a vote of the full Senate, where
Berlusconi's supporters are also in a minority, before he loses
the Senate seat he has held since February's election.
"This shameful decision is not the result of a correct
application of the law but of a desire to eliminate by judicial
means a political opponent it was not possible to defeat
democratically through the ballot box," Berlusconi, who did not
attend the hearing, said after the vote.
His allies in parliament were equally defiant.
"The axemen shouldn't delude themselves, what is rolling on
the floor is the title of senator, not the head of the man and
the politician Berlusconi, who remains the leader and point of
reference for half of the Italians," said PDL lower house
speaker Renato Brunetta.
The Senate proceedings cap a disastrous week for the
77-year-old billionaire, who was forced into a humiliating
climb-down on Wednesday by a party revolt which made him back
centre-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta in parliament.
After pulling his ministers from the coalition government at
the weekend and calling for new elections, Berlusconi had to
reverse his decision to bring down the government and, instead,
back Letta in a confidence vote.
The revolt by dissenters in his own party left Berlusconi's
PDL divided into two blocs, with 42-year-old party secretary
Angelino Alfano heading a group of moderates while a hard core
of loyalists remain with Berlusconi, although a formal split has
not yet been confirmed.
Even if Berlusconi is expelled from the Senate as expected,
he could still lead the centre right, or the part of it that
remains loyal to him, from outside parliament.
However, his position would be weaker and he would be robbed
of the protection from arrest which parliamentarians enjoy,
which could be important as he faces many other legal cases.
Financial markets have reacted positively to the survival of
Letta's government, with yields on Italian 10-year bonds falling
to 4.3 percent, the same level as before the crisis erupted.
Berlusconi's political future has been under threat since
early August, when Italy's top court rejected a final appeal and
found him guilty of a massive tax fraud scheme at his Mediaset
It sentenced him to four years in prison, commuted to one
year under house arrest or in community service, making him
ineligible for parliament under a law passed last year.
Berlusconi loyalists insist this law should not apply in his
case because the offences occurred before it was passed.