ROME Wikipedia has disabled its Italian website in protest against a privacy law drafted by Silvio Berlusconi's government which would impose new restrictions on newspapers and Internet pages and curb police wiretaps.
The online encyclopedia warned it may shut its page www.wikipedia.it permanently because of provisions in the law forcing websites to correct content deemed detrimental to a person's image within 48 hours of a complaint, with no right of appeal.
Wikipedia's move coincided with planned rallies in central Rome on Wednesday against the law, as parliament met to discuss an amendment which would curb Italian newspapers' right to publish police wiretaps during preliminary investigations.
Protesters gathered near parliament with their mouths taped shut.
"The very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built - -neutrality, freedom, and verifiability of its contents -- are likely to be heavily compromised," said a letter posted by the "Users of Wikipedia" on its site -- which was blocked to searches.
"The obligation to publish on our site the correction... without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia," it said.
Prime Minister Berlusconi, who began trying to toughen privacy laws soon after coming to power for a third term in 2008, says the restrictions on the media and websites are needed to ensure the rights of private citizens.
But journalist groups and other opponents accuse the government of scrambling to cover up corruption with laws that threaten basic freedom of expression.
The draft bill has been held up in parliament for more than a year, but the government has revived it at a time when embarrassing leaked wiretaps from a prostitution probe in southern Italy are adding to Berlusconi's legal problems.
According to wiretapped conversations published by newspapers and online media, the 75-year old billionaire boasted of "doing eight girls" in a night and joked that with all his sexual activity, he was only prime minister "in my spare time."
Berlusconi faces three corruption trials and one on charges of having sex with an under-age prostitute, which has filled newspapers with lurid allegations of orgies at his residence near Milan.
Berlusconi denies all wrongdoing and says he is being persecuted by leftwing magistrates determined to force him from power.
(Editing by Barry Moody)