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From Denny: Billionaire Berlusconi may finally be on the road of The Long Goodbye much like Egypt's Mubarak. Tens of thousands of women, with husbands and boyfriends, have been protesting Bersculoni and his latest sex scandal for two weeks now. There is only so much embarrassment a country can take and Italy is fed up with Bersculoni, his arrogance and his cavalier depravity. The status quo is about to change.
Bersculoni stands trial
For years Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been successful at dodging prosecution for his corruption as well as political no-confidence votes like a deer leaping over a Spring flood. It looks like his luck has run out because he is now ordered, by a female judge picked at random, to stand trial come April 6 on prostitution as well as abuse of power charges.
The charges against him
He has been indicted on charges he paid for sex with an underage 17-year-old Moroccan girl, Ruby. It was the cover up that got him like it always gets politicians. Bersculoni used his political power to influence the police to release Ruby from custody when she was arrested on a theft charge. He was fearful it would come out about his relationship to her.
Ruby was released to a Bersculoni aide that claimed she was the niece of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. She is not but is a Moroccan belly dancer. Both Bersculoni and Ruby claim no sexual relations. Yet, Ruby does admit Bersculoni gave her almost $10,000 when they first met. In Italy, it is not a crime to pay for sex as long as the prostitute is over age 18. Ruby was only 17 at the time.
This is the first time Bersculoni has been up on personal charges though he has faced many business related charges.
Bersculoni has tried to dismiss the charges against him as "groundless" and the whole situation as a "farce." He says the prosecutors are seeking to remove him from power. The farce is him and his whole lifestyle of excess. He still does not view himself through the eyes of the Italian public.
Italy's law procedure
When the judge, Cristina Di Censo, handed the down the indictment it was with a terse statement that revealed she believes there is sufficient evidence to place Bersculoni on trial. The prosecutors requested an immediate trial and she agreed to a speedy procedure, only so ordered in cases of overwhelming evidence. So much for the preliminary fact-finding hearing. It was not necessary for the Bersculoni - Ruby case.
This will not be a jury trial like it would be here in America. It will be a trial by a panel of three judges, all picked at random. They all happen to also be women.
Political damage to Bersculoni
This indictment certainly makes him politically vulnerable with pressure to resign. He continues to reject resignation but so did Mubarak until the voices grew so loud he no longer had enough support to remain in power. Bersculoni, a three-time premier, split with an ally recently which weakens him greatly.
Women's rights in Italy
Italian women are fed up with his crass attitude and behavior. All across Italy they have rallied against him, calling for his resignation. They are angry because they believe his conduct with young women has degraded female dignity.
"We are asking all women to defend the value of our dignity, and we are asking men: if not now, when?"
They are right for it sure brings to mind the photo of Bersculoni grabbing a meter main in public from behind, as she was writing a parking ticket, and proceeded to hump her for the cameras. You, too, can elect this crass guy to be your president. Talk about killing the dignity of the office.
Italian women are fed up with how Bersculoni reinforces outdated gender stereotypes. In Italy, a woman is hired and promoted for her beauty not her brains too.
From Naples to Palermo, women marched and chanted "Italy is not a brothel."
Are these protests to be taken seriously? You bet. Until now, it was middle-aged women who were among his key supporters but no longer. An online petition has tapped into their growing anger and organized them all over the country.
Prominent women like politicians and actresses have led the protests in over 200 cities, counting also several nations like Greece and the United States.
Like other corrupt politicians, also lacking a morality and ethical gene, Bersculoni has his Ditto Heads who support him, refusing to face facts. And, yes, some are women.
The women's rights groups are angry about this one-dimensional view of women promoted in Italy that hurts gender relations. They state it "encourages women to sell their good looks as the only route to success. Big boobs, small hips, and always available: it's almost become a dictatorship - because television, the newspapers, only present this model of women," said Lorella Zanardo, author of Il Corpo Delle Donne, a book about the image of women in the media.
"The image of a strong and emancipated woman struggles to emerge here even if Italy is full of women like this," she complains.
What kind of prison time is 74-year-old Bersculoni facing?
Child prostitution carries a possible prison sentence varying from six months to three years. The abuse of influence charge is considered the most serious charge. This charge is some serious jail time, ranging from four to 12 years, a possible death sentence for a man of his advanced age. He also faces the possibility of being barred from seeking public office permanently if he is convicted on the abuse of power charge. Most likely, if convicted on that, he could receive more than five years as a sentence.
How long will all this take to come to a conclusion?
Right now Bersculoni is battling three other judicial cases. He is a busy man because all these cases will be resuming in a few weeks. He did try to pass an immunity bill so he could not be prosecuted, hoping to suspend the trials, but that bill got watered down by the highest court.
Both the prostitution and the abuse of power charges could take months in trial, perhaps even years, because of all the other cases against him. You can see why he clings to power because his attorneys can seek to annul hearing dates while claiming conflicts with state business. Of course, when you hear about years of wild orgy parties and dozens of young women frequenting his estate you sure wonder when he had time for running the country.
Berlusconi is not required to attend the court hearings nor does the law demand he resign while on trial. Italian law says that a defendant is actually not considered guilty until all the appeals have been exhausted. That can take several years. In America, you can be found guilty and then take several years of appeals to try and overturn the conviction.
Pressure to resign
The opposition leader of the Democratic Party, Alessandro Maran, wants Bersculoni to resign and says, "Leave the premiership. Let us not be the laughing stock of the world. Free Italy."
The newspapers have exposed leaked wiretaps from the investigation for weeks now, enraging the public. They tell of wild orgies, sex games, bundles of cash and gifts given to women after they attended parties at the Bersculoni villa. Sure looks like sex for cash with young women, probably more than one were underage like Ruby.
Call for new election?
Berlusconi won his third term in 2008 and the next election is 2013. Dissolving parliament and calling new elections is the decision of the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano.
The two discussed Napolitano's concerns about the bitter conflict between Bersculoni and the judiciary. Napolitano warns "political tensions are too high." He believes the result will be that Italy is at risk for facing new elections.
What other cases are against Bersculoni?
* tax fraud related to his Mediaset media empire, alleging misconduct in 1999 and bribery in another case.
* tax fraud stemming from events in 2007, the preliminary hearing is set for next month.
* the statute of limitations may expire in these two trials
Bersculoni may be able to withstand the legal challenges for a while longer, maybe years. But can he withstand the public outcry for resignation? I doubt it. Just as Egypt's Mubarak was forced to step down so, too, will Bersculoni. It's one thing to dodge a political no-confidence vote. It's quite another to find a place to hide when the entire country is fed up with you. The women of Italy should keep up the pressure and rid themselves - and their countrymen and women - of this national embarrassment. Bersculoni is too busy cavorting around to properly care for the people's business and it's past due time to elect someone who will take the job seriously.
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