‘Government must forge ahead’ – Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi sought to allay fears on Sunday over the future of Italy's uneasy coalition government after the former premier's tax fraud conviction sent shockwaves across the political scene.

'Government must forge ahead' - Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi addressed supporters at his home in Rome on Sunday. Photo: Rosie Scammell/The Local

"We have said clearly and directly that the government must forge ahead," the right-wing leader told more than 1,000 sympathisers gathered in front of his Rome mansion.

"The government must continue to take economic measures and we have said clearly and directly that the parliament must forge ahead to vote for these economic measures," Berlusconi went on.

The demonstration of support was organised by the playboy tycoon's People of Freedom (PDL) party, with the slogan "Sunday in the street for democracy and freedom."

The PDL said on its website the gathering "will be the opportunity to huddle around our leader and confirm with him the great strength and the great
determination of a people who do not know hatred and who really believe in freedom and democracy."

A visibly moved Berlusconi told the supporters: "Your closeness and your warmth comfort me after all the pain and suffering of the past few days."

Italy's top court on Thursday handed Berlusconi his first definitive conviction in a 20-year political career dogged by legal woes and sex scandals.

The court ordered the three-time premier to do a year of community service or be placed under house arrest — a sentence due to be enacted in October.

He is also barred from running in elections for six years and the police on Friday withdrew his passport to prevent him from leaving the country.

Berlusconi lashed out at the judges who sentenced him for tax fraud.

"I'm here, I'll remain here and I'm not giving up and we will all continue together this battle for democracy and freedom so that citizens aren't afraid of finding themselves in prison without having done anything wrong," he declared.

Supporters of Berlusconi threatened to resign from the government on Friday after the verdict against the billionaire tycoon.

"We are ready to resign to defend our ideal," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi's closest ally from the PDL, was quoted by Italian media as saying at a meeting with the mogul.

Berlusconi himself reportedly said: "We have to ask for new elections as quickly as possible and win them."

Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who presides over the uneasy alliance between his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, earlier pleaded for calm "for the good of Italy".

But he added: "I do not think a deterioration is advantageous and I do not believe that continuing at any cost is in the interests of the country."

Italy's current government was installed following a two-month deadlock between Berlusconi's group and their eternal rivals, the PD, after close-run February elections in which both won around a third of the vote.

"The government is a dead man walking," the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily said in an editorial.

Opinion polls based on surveys carried out in the run-up to Thursday's verdict indicated that Berlusconi's coalition would win new elections by a large margin.

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Italy’s Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni arrived on Saturday in the Libyan capital Tripoli for talks on energy as well as the thorny issue of migration, Libyan state media said.

Italy's Meloni in Libya to discuss energy and migration

Meloni’s trip – her second to a North African country this week – is the first by a European leader to war-battered Libya since her predecessor Mario Draghi’s visit in April 2021.

State television said the Italian premier was received by Abdelhamid Dbeibah, who heads the Tripoli-based, UN brokered Government of National Unity which is contested by a rival administration in the east.

Libya and its former colonial power Italy are key trade partners, particularly in energy, where Italian giant Eni plays a major role in tapping into Africa’s largest known oil reserves.

Meloni was accompanied by Eni chief Claudio Descalzi, who is expected to sign a deal with Libya’s National Oil Company to develop two Libyan offshore gas fields.

Eni will invest $8 million in the two fields, NOC chief Farhat Bengdara said in televised remarks this week, adding they are expected to produce 850 million cubic metres of gas.

Meloni visited Algeria on Monday seeking supply deals from Africa’s top gas exporter to help reduce reliance on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

During her trip to Libya, she is also expected to discuss the issue of migration amid rising numbers of irregular migrants from Libya to Italy.

Libya has been wracked by years of conflict and division since a NATO-backed revolt toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

The country is a conduit for thousands of people each year fleeing conflict and poverty across Africa, seeking refuge across the Mediterranean in Europe.

Meloni’s far-right government took office in October, vowing to stop migrant landings in Italy, which reached more than 105,000 in 2022.

The central Mediterranean route is considered the world’s most treacherous, according to the International Organization for Migration, which estimated that 1,377 migrants had disappeared on that route last year.