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Violence Erupts as Italy's Berlusconi Secures Confidence Vote

A demonstrator wearing a stolen Guardia di Finanza jacket throws a metal pole at the Guardia di Finanza during anti-government clashes near the parliament in Rome, 14 Dec 2010.

Violent protests erupted in the streets of Rome Tuesday, after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won a critical confidence vote in parliament that thinly secured his political leadership.

Protesters in the Italian capital who feel let down by Berlusconi's government set cars on fire, threw smoke bombs and threw stones at riot police, who fought back with tear gas and truncheons.

Television pictures show bloodied faces of protesters and initial reports say at least 20 people were injured.

Tens of thousands of anti-Berlusconi demonstrators gathered in cities across Italy before the prime minister won the confidence vote by a razor-thin majority of three votes in the lower house.

Mr. Berlusconi would have been forced to resign mid-way through his current five-year term if he had not secured the votes.

Verbal and physical scuffles also broke out inside the parliament building during the no-confidence vote between supporters and critics of the controversial prime minister.

The 74-year-old media billionaire has been facing numerous allegations, including accusations that his aides sought to buy support ahead of Tuesday's vote. He has also been forced to fend off other challenges, including a string of sex and corruption scandals.

The upper house of parliament voted 162 to 135 in favor of Mr. Berlusconi Tuesday, while a vote of 314 in favor and 311 against helped him survive the vote in the lower house.

Mr. Berlusconi had been expected to receive strong support from political allies in the Senate, but he faced more uncertainty in the lower house.

On Monday, Mr. Berlusconi told parliament that ousting him would be "political folly." He appealed to lawmakers to be politically responsible and renew confidence in his government.

However, Chamber of Deputies leader Gianfranco Fini urged Mr. Berlusconi to resign, saying Italy is facing a political crisis. Gianfranco was once an ally of Mr. Berlusconi.

Mr. Berlusconi was first elected prime minister in 1994. He won elections in 2001 and 2008 and has served the longest of any leader in post-war Italy.