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Italy's Government Proposes Immunity Bill for Top Officials


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government has proposed legislation that would give immunity to the country's top officials while they are in office. The opposition says the bill, which would still need to be approved by parliament, is aimed at protecting Mr. Berlusconi from prosecution. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome

The immunity bill proposed by the government is a revised version of a 2003 law which at the time briefly halted Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's corruption trial before the Constitutional Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

This time the bill is likely to be approved swiftly by both houses of parliament, where the ruling center-right government, has solid majorities. Cabinet members, such as Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, have also expressed the hope that the opposition may not vote against the bill.

Alfano said it is a proposal regulating the relations between Italy's top state officials and the courts during the time they are in office and therefore it should receive widespread parliamentary backing.

Alfano insisted that the legislation will allow top officials to carry out their jobs without worries. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa defended the bill saying the new version takes into account all possible objections.

La Russa complimented the justice minister saying he had done a very through job to prepare a bill that cannot be criticized for being unconstitutional.

The bill would effectively grant immunity from prosecution for the Italian president, the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament. It would also freeze the statute of limitations while the officials are in office.

But members of the opposition were quick to criticize the cabinet's move and said it was an effort to protect Berlusconi, who is currently a defendant in a corruption trial in Milan.

Anna Finocchiaro of the opposition Democratic Party said this bill should not be valid until the next legislature because Italy would have in place a system that creates laws for the personal interest of the prime minister. She added that it would be less risk for Silvio Berlusconi to face his trial serenely.

Antonio di Pietro, a former magistrate, who is one of Berluconi's fiercest critics, said his Italy of Values party would put up the stiffest opposition to the immunity bill.

He said members of his party would re-propose a referendum because citizens must be given a say on whether it is right that those who govern do not undergo trial if they are suspected of having being involved in corruption.

Berlusconi, who has been dogged by legal troubles for 15 years, has been in a long-standing confrontation with the judiciary. The battle erupted again this week when the prime minister said some magistrates were politically driven and called them a cancer of democracy.