ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came under strong criticism from his main political ally and from Italy’s president on Thursday for using a speech in Germany to launch another scathing attack on Italian magistrates.
The speech led to the latest episode in a growing rift between Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament who is supposedly his main conservative ally but has been increasingly critical of him in recent weeks.
Berlusconi raised eyebrows among fellow conservatives at a European People’s Party meeting in Bonn when he used much of his speech to vent his anger at magistrates, who he said were trying to substitute parliament and conduct a “manhunt” against him.
Berlusconi, 73, has been on the warpath against Italy’s judiciary since the Constitutional Court in October overturned a law granting him immunity from prosecution while in office, allowing trials against him to resume.
He now faces the reopening of a number of actions against him, including one on charges of bribery and corruption and another for tax fraud.
“Parliament makes laws, but if the ‘party of the magistrates’ doesn’t like these laws, they go to the Constitutional Court, where 11 out of 15 judges are leftists, and they throw out the laws,” Berlusconi said.
“Sovereignty has passed from parliament to the judiciary,” he said, adding he was not worried because he had “balls” and would be able to run Italy despite attempts to weaken him.
Fini quickly demanded a clarification about Berlusconi’s attack on parliament’s sovereignty and the courts, accusing the prime minister of “sowing dangerous confusion” abroad about Italy.
Berlusconi retorted minutes later by saying he was “tired of hypocrisy,” a clear reference to Fini.
Some political commentators say the rift, combined with Berlusconi’s legal woes, could lead to early elections three years ahead of schedule, with the weakened prime minister banking on a likely victory to silence his critics.
President Giorgio Napolitano denounced Berlusconi’s speech in Bonn as “a violent attack on fundamental institutions.” Napolitano is a former communist and Berlusconi has often accused him of being partial.
“It is sad to watch the prime minister’s indecent show for the umpteenth time, and what’s more, on the European stage,” said Anna Finocchiaro, head of the PD opposition party in the Senate.
“His obsession with his judicial problems stops him from talking about anything else, even at an international meeting.”
Additional reporting by Paolo Biondi and Sarah Marsh in Bonn; editing by Philip Pullella