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ELECTION

Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella sworn in for second term

Italy's President Sergio Mattarella was sworn in on Thursday for a new seven-year term after being re-elected on Saturday.

President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale palace following his swearing-in ceremony in Rome.
President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale palace following his swearing-in ceremony in Rome on February 3rd, 2022. Photo: GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE / POOL / AFP

“This is a fresh, unexpected call for a commitment which I cannot – and will not – back away from,” the 80-year-old said, stressing the challenges Italy faces in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

His inauguration in parliament was marked by wild bursts of applause from lawmakers, who re-elected him by a large majority in the eighth round of voting after parties failed to agree on any other candidate.

The only other serious contender for the job – Prime Minister Mario Draghi – was needed at the head of government to keep Rome on track with major reforms to the tax and justice systems and public sector.

Mattarella said he stepped up to end the “profound political uncertainty and tensions” which could have “jeopardised… the prospects for relaunching” the Italian economy.

PROFILE: President Mattarella, the reluctant hero in Italy’s crisis

These have been “troubled times for everyone, including me,” he told the lower Chamber of Deputies, which was decked out in red drapes and 21 vast Italian flags.

The cannons on the Gianicolo hill overlooking Rome fired a 21-gun salute and the bronze bell at the lower house rang out as Mattarella took the oath.

President Sergio Mattarella arrives at the Quirinale palace in his Lancia Flaminia 335 following his swearing-in ceremony. Photo: GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE / POOL / AFP

In his speech, Mattarella sounded a warning note over geopolitical tensions, urging a “more just, more modern Italy” to be “intensely linked to the friendly peoples that surround us”.

“We cannot accept that… the wind of confrontation is once again rising in a continent that has known the tragedies of the First and Second World Wars,” he said in a nod to fears that Russia might invade Ukraine.

He called those present to increase efforts to rebuild Italy after the devastation of Covid-19, which hit the country hard and has killed over 147,000 people.

Mattarella’s re-election on Saturday was hailed as having temporarily averted a political disaster but it also laid bare deep fractures within the ruling broad coalition government.

Draghi, brought in by Mattarella last year, has been racing to ensure Italy qualifies for funds from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery scheme amounting to almost 200 billion euros ($225 billion).

The deadlock over the presidential candidate risked derailing those reforms, and fears remain that one or another of the parties in the coalition could pull out causing the government to implode.

The presidential post in Italy is largely a ceremonial job, but it plays a key role during a political crisis, and experts said Mattarella looked set to have his work cut out.

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POLITICS

Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in ‘Ruby ter’ trial

Italy’s billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi is once instead again facing the threat of criminal sanction over his notorious ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties.

Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in 'Ruby ter' trial

Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested six years in jail for the 85-year-old for allegedly paying guests to lie about the parties in the third instalment of the so-called ‘Ruby’ affair, named after the underage exotic dancer at the centre of the case.

Berlusconi denies wrongdoing, and even if convicted has little chance of going to jail due to a long appeals process and restrictions against imprisoning the elderly.

Around 20 former guests of the infamous parties at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan are also on trial, accused of accepting money and gifts from the media mogul in return for their silence.

Young women who attended would later describe the events as sex parties, but Berlusconi always insisted they were nothing more than elegant, “convivial” dinners.

“These young women were assured that they would be OK both in terms of income, with a 2,500-euro ($2,677) monthly payment, and for a roof, a house, accommodation,” prosecutor Luca Gaglio told the court in his summing up on Wednesday.

Previously, fellow prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano accused Berlusconi of hiring “sex slaves”.

READ ALSO: ‘Deeply disappointed’: Italy’s Berlusconi breaks silence over friend Putin

Berlusconi’s lawyers insist payments amounting to millions of euros were compensation for the reputational damage suffered by the women from the scandal.

The former prime minister is among 29 people accused in the trial, including Karima El-Mahroug, the Moroccan teenager and dancer who used the name “Ruby”, for whom prosecutors asked for five years in jail.

The verdict is expected in the autumn.

The investigations date back to El-Mahroug’s arrest for theft in 2010 – and Berlusconi’s intervention for police to release her.

Each time, Berlusconi has emerged victorious – eventually.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for paying for sex with El-Mahroug, but the verdict was overturned on appeal after the judge said there was reasonable doubt he knew she was underage.

Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi during a rally in Rome on March 9, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

A second trial, named “Ruby-bis” (Ruby Two), ended in jail terms for Berlusconi’s close allies for supplying young prostitutes.

The Ruby-ter (Ruby Three) trials are spread out across several Italian cities, including in Siena, where Berlusconi was cleared last October of bribing a piano player to lie about the parties.

Berlusconi and his allies have long claimed the extensive legal proceedings against him in recent decades – he claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials – are politically motivated.

He has never spent any time behind bars but in 2013, with his first definitive conviction for tax fraud, he carried out community service in a care home for Alzheimer’s patients.

Berlusconi was prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011 and remains active in politics, although his career is reaching its twilight.

He most recently made headlines with a failed bid to become president in January.

His Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government but is languishing in the polls.

He has also been plagued by health problems, saying he almost died after being hospitalised with coronavirus in September 2020.

After recovering in hospital, he famously told reporters: “Once again, I got away with it”.

Last year, he was again hospitalised in Milan and Monaco, reportedly due to problems with his heart, a fall at home, and the after-effects of Covid.

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