Berlusconi supporters hold rally
Thousands of supporters of former premier Silvio Berlusconi rallied in a northern Italian city on Saturday to protest the media mogul's recent conviction by a Milan appeals court for tax fraud, cheering their hero as police in riot gear separated them from jeering opponents.
The backers turned out for the "Everyone for Silvio" rally in a square outside the cathedral in Brescia, a small industrial city that is a bastion of the conservative leader's political support.
As some arrived, waving pro-Berlusconi banners, some detractors shouted "jail, jail". Helmeted police holding plastic body shields moved in between the noisy camps to prevent any physical violence.
The appellate court in its ruling on Wednesday also upheld a four-year prison term and a five-year ban from political office.
Mr Berlusconi will appeal to a higher court and currently serves in Parliament. The statute of limitations could run out on the case before the final appeal runs its course, which would essentially make the conviction fall by the wayside.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Mr Berlusconi told the crowd, almost drowned out by both applause and derisive hoots.
The billionaire businessman, who entered politics two decades ago by forming his own centre-right party, has long blamed his many criminal cases on prosecutors he contends side with the left.
Detractors say his former governments made laws tailor-made to help his judicial woes, including one that said premiers can cite official duties as a "legitimate impediment" to put off trial hearings, delaying the end of trials and making it more likely statute of limitations could kick in.
He was forced to resign in 2011 under the pressure of financial markets during the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis.
Rally participants came "to say a flat 'no' to the political use of justice", said Mariastella Gelmini, who had served as a cabinet minister for Mr Berlusconi. "It's a problem regarding democracy, and not just Silvio Berlusconi," Ms Gelmini said, interviewed at the rally by Sky TG24 TV.