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Berlusconi’s Party Pushes for Pardon as Mass Resignation Readied

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party is preparing a push for a pardon of its leader’s tax-fraud conviction and will consider a mass resignation from parliament in protest.

“It was a strong possibility, but it will be in the hands of the chief whips,” Lucio Malan, a senator with Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, said late yesterday about his colleagues’ discussion of a pardon request in a party meeting in Rome. Of a resignation, he said in an interview, “If we decide together to do it, then I’m ready.”

A group resignation by Berlusconi’s allies, who together represent the second-biggest bloc in the ruling parliamentary coalition, would bring down Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government. President Giorgio Napolitano, who as head of state holds the power to grant pardons, said Aug. 1 in a statement that the justice system deserves trust and respect.

A spokesman for Letta declined to respond to the comments from members of People of Liberty, or PDL. Letta said earlier he didn’t expect Berlusconi’s legal troubles to upset his government and that the interests of individuals must be subordinated to an agenda for the nation.

“I am absolutely aware of the politically delicate moment,” Letta said yesterday prior to the PDL meeting. “I hope that collective interests prevail for the good of the country, the good of Italy, and not partisan interests.”

Renato Brunetta, the PDL’s chief whip in the lower house of parliament, told party members in the closed-door meeting that they must be ready to defend democracy in Italy if their request for a pardon isn’t accepted, Ansa reported. The news agency said Renato Schifani, chief whip in the Senate, told the group that he and Brunetta will ask Napolitano to intervene.

Berlusconi, 76, is under increasing pressure from the courts. The tax-fraud verdict, which was upheld by Italy’s top tribunal on Aug. 1, may lead to his expulsion from parliament. His appeals of convictions in two separate criminal cases are still pending.

He has denied all wrongdoing, saying the trials are motivated by prosecutors and judges out to destroy him politically.

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