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Rome - An Italian Senate committee on Friday approved a motion for Silvio Berlusconi to be expelled from parliament following his criminal conviction, dealing a further humiliating blow to the embattled billionaire tycoon.
The senators, most of them leftist opponents of the three-time former premier, voted 15 for and eight against and the motion now goes to the full Senate for final approval expected later this month.
After hours of talks, the head of the committee, Dario Stefano, said it had “decided by a majority to propose that the Senate assembly debate invalidating the election of senator Berlusconi”.
The procedure could add to the political tensions in Italy that threatened to topple the uneasy coalition government earlier this week and sent shock waves through the financial markets.
Ejection from the Senate would mean Berlusconi being out of parliament for the first time since 1994, when the media and construction magnate first burst onto Italy's political scene.
Berlusconi said the decision showed “a specific desire to eliminate through judicial means a political adversary who has not been eliminated at the ballot box through democratic means”.
“When you violate a state of laws, you hit the heart of democracy,” he said in a Facebook post.
Daniele Capezzone, another pro-Berlusconi lawmaker, said: “The Senate committee has written a very black page for Italian democracy”.
But Isabella De Monte from the centre-left Democratic Party, one of the senators who voted to eject Berlusconi, said: “Whoever talks about a political verdict does not know the law.”
Berlusconi supporters in the committee had tried to stall the proceedings, which began last month.
Berlusconi allies have said he could continue to lead his party even out of parliament but analysts say his failed challenge to Prime Minister Enrico Letta shows he has lost control of the party.
Berlusconi said on Saturday that he was pulling his ministers out of the government and pushing for early elections but the ministers themselves and other once loyal allies balked and he was forced into a U-turn in parliament on Wednesday.
Some PDL lawmakers have said they could break off and set up their own grouping in parliament, although the 77-year-old Berlusconi has played down divisions saying: “I see an absolutely united party with some internal differences”.
Berlusconi has been a headline act on Italy's political scene for the past two decades, serving as prime minister for nearly 10
years and becoming notorious for his buffoonish antics on the international stage and sleazy sex scandals.
Italy's supreme court on August 1 turned down Berlusconi's second and final appeal against a tax fraud ruling, handing him his first definitive conviction in many years of legal woes.
A judge in Milan is due to decide this month whether Berlusconi should serve the one-year prison sentence he received as part of the conviction as house arrest or community service.
He is also appealing convictions for having sex with an underage prostitute, abuse of office and leaking a confidential police wiretap to damage a political rival and is under investigation for bribing a senator to join his ranks.
Berlusconi's Senate expulsion would happen under a law approved last year with votes also from his own party and aimed at cleaning up Italian politics by ridding parliament of criminals.
He would also be barred from the next elections.
Berlusconi has now appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over the law, saying that it should not apply to him because his alleged crimes were committed before the legislation was approved.