By Frances D’emilio, AP
ROME — A Silvio Berlusconi loyalist warned on Saturday of a possible “civil war” if the ex-premier’s punishment for tax-fraud conviction is not lifted, as his aides maneuvered to win a presidential pardon so he can avoid a prison term and a ban on holding public office.
Berlusconi stalwarts also urged the 10 million Italians who voted for the conservative leader in this year’s election to fill the streets of Rome on Sunday.
Italy’s highest court on Thursday upheld Berlusconi’s four-year prison sentence, the first time that the media mogul was definitely convicted and sentenced in two decades of trials and other criminal probes. A law to reduce prison overcrowding slashes his sentence to one year and since he is over 70, he can choose house confinement or perform social services instead of going to prison.
Berlusconi insists he is a victim of prosecutors and judges who he says have leftist sympathies.
“In this country, democracy has been mutilated” by the high court’s decision, Daniela Santanche, one of Berlusconi’s closest associates, told Sky TG24 TV.
His political associates and party officials pressed their `’save Silvio” strategy on several fronts after huddling with him on Friday evening. Berlusconi, in a recorded video message a few hours after Italy’s supreme court upheld the conviction, had sounded shaken but defiant, vowing to galvanize his party’s base.
Renato Brunetta, a leader of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said Saturday he and a former Senate president, Renato Schifani, have requested a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who can issue pardons.
Napolitano hasn’t publicly commented about the prospects of a pardon. But, according to the Italian constitution, only Berlusconi, his lawyer or a family member can ask for a presidential pardon, which could wipe out or lessen the punishment but not the conviction itself.