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Berlusconi survives storm

Gavin Hewitt | 14:57 UK time, Tuesday, 14 December 2010

ROME In the end Silvio Berlusconi survived as he has done so many times in his tempestuous career. He defeated a no-confidence motion by three votes in the Chamber of Deputies.

It was a moment of high drama. The Italian prime minister has dominated his country's politics for the best part of 15 years. Parliament was ringed with police wagons. Protesters shouted "you have bought the votes like you buy your women!" In the chamber there were brief scuffles.

Demonstrator hurls a flare in Rome (14 Dec 2010)

On the streets students and workers marched towards Piazza Venezia. Some came with motorcycle helmets and rocks, flares and thunder flashes.

Some bottles and rocks were thrown at the closest point to Berlusconi's residence, but the first major clash came outside the Senate. We watched as rocks, bottles and tiles were hurled at the police. They replied with tear gas and a baton charge.

Then there was a moment of confusion. The word reached the crowd that Berlusconi had been defeated. Some of the students danced and then embraced each other. They dislike him not just because of his way of life and the scandals involving girls and parties. They oppose the planned increases in student fees and the closures of certain smaller universities.

Then the news filtered through that in fact Silvio Berlusconi had scraped through. The mood turned angry. Some protesters began attacking banks and smashing windows. I watched an attempt to set fire to one bank.

Some of the crowd, however, believed that today's vote had hastened the end of the Berlusconi era. His hold on power is down to a handful of votes. He has been weakened and it will be much more difficult to get his legislative programme through.

Italy looks destined for a period of instability, with the most likely outcome elections in the New Year. Silvio Berlusconi will fight and may still win. He has a strong base but his grip on power has been loosened. Italian politics - as they have been before - will now be fractious and bitterly fought over.


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