Europe

Berlusconi defiant ahead of vote on Senate seat

MILAN (AP) — Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi was defiant ahead of an upcoming vote on removing him from the Senate, saying Saturday he would neither give up his seat voluntarily nor ask for a presidential pardon.

The Senate is set to vote Wednesday on removing Berlusconi from his seat over his conviction for tax fraud and four-year jail sentence, confirmed by the nation's highest court. Berlusconi has no role in government but remains influential in the center-right and the prospect of his removal has raised tensions in the fragile coalition government.

Berlusconi told the Naples daily Il Mattino in an interview Saturday that he would not consider resigning in advance of the vote, and that he expects "recognition of his role and political viability" from his allies in government.

"I certainly can't stay there to work with those who want to kill me," he said. Berlusconi, whose center-right is joined in a fragile coalition with the Democratic Party, has indicated he will join the opposition if he is pushed out of the Senate, as expected. But the government's survival should be guaranteed by a group of center-right lawmakers who have split from Berlusconi and formed their own party.

Berlusconi addressed a group of young members of the new Forza Italia party, which he has relaunched to invigorate his base, telling them that the vote to remove him is tantamount to a government coup and was based on "an incredible verdict, absolutely unfounded, used to lay the groundwork of the political murder of the center-right leader."

The 77-year-old three-time leader said he would not ask for a pardon, but that President Giorgio Napolitano should concede him one on his own volition, and called the sentence, reduced by an amnesty to one year performing social service, "a humiliation."

Berlusconi has been weakened by the confirmation of his tax fraud conviction by Italy's highest court this summer, his failed attempt to bring down the government last month and, not least, the move by a group of center-right loyalists to form their own party alongside the new Forza Italia.

The tax fraud case is the first confirmed criminal conviction against him in decades of legal battles.

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