NAPLES, Italy A Naples judge on Tuesday rejected a request by prosecutors to hold a snap trial of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on bribery charges, the latest twist in the Italian center-right leader's increasingly bitter legal battle.
Allegations that Berlusconi gave 3 million euros ($3.89 million) to a former senator to switch sides in 2006 - undermining Romano Prodi's center-left government of the time - will face a regular judicial process, according to a copy of the judge's ruling obtained by Reuters.
The decision, eliminating the risk of an almost immediate verdict, will be welcomed by Berlusconi as he grapples with several other legal cases and fights for his political life following last month's inconclusive election.
President Giorgio Napolitano will start consultations for the formation of a government on Wednesday. The center-left has enough votes to control the lower house, but none of the three main political blocs has a majority in the Senate, which has equal legislative powers.
Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party has repeatedly called on the center-left Democratic Party (PD) to form another right-left government like the one that was led by outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti. So far, the PD has rebuffed all overtures.
Meanwhile the PD is keen to govern with comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star movement, but has itself been repeatedly rejected by Grillo.
Apart from the bribery inquiry, Berlusconi is facing three ongoing trials, including a high-profile case in which he is accused of paying for sex with an underage prostitute.
Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing and says he is targeted by politically biased prosecutors and judges whom he describes as a "cancer" of Italy's democracy.
Berlusconi's PDL is planning a rally in Rome on Saturday to protest against the courts' treatment of the 76-year-old billionaire. Last week, PDL lawmakers staged a protest against magistrates on the steps of the Milan courthouse.
Separately, Berlusconi on Tuesday appealed against a ruling that he owed 36 million euros per year (or about 100,000 euros per day) to his estranged wife Veronica Lario as part of their divorce settlement, judicial sources said.
Italian media reports on Tuesday said that the owner of Italy's biggest private TV broadcaster was seeking to halve the cash payment in exchange for giving her a mansion outside Milan.
($1 = 0.7717 euros)
(Additional reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro and Valentina Consiglio. Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)