Riots on streets of Rome after Berlusconi wins by three votes
Silvio Berlusconi narrowly won a vital no confidence vote yesterday after sex and corruption scandals led to chaos inside the Italian parliament and violent protests on the streets of Rome.
The margin of victory was so thin that Mr Berlusconi is now the leader of a lame-duck government that was declared "clinically dead" by the opposition.
After months of political crisis, the prime minister scraped through by just three votes in the lower house of parliament, where his majority was shattered by a split with his one-time ally, Gianfranco Fini, during the summer.
Mr Berlusconi's government defeated the no confidence motion by 314 votes to 311. It won a similar vote in the upper house of parliament with a more comfortable majority.
Voting had to be suspended at one point after a scuffle broke out between MPs when a member of Mr Fini's breakaway party took the surprise decision to vote for the government.
Catia Polidori broke ranks to cast her vote in favour of Mr Berlusconi, prompting jeers and accusations of bribery, with scuffles erupting between rival MPs. One colleague called her a "whore", while others shouted "shame".
Outside parliament, 100,000 students and demonstrators clashed with police as they railed against the government, in particular its plans to cut university funding.
As word spread that Mr Berlusconi had won the vote, demonstrators surged toward symbols of authority such as the two houses of parliament, daubing them with paint.
They fought running battles close to the Spanish Steps, digging up cobblestones and throwing them at riot police, who responded with tear gas and baton charges. One officer drew his handgun as he was tackled to the ground by youths armed with clubs.
The protesters carried banners accusing Mr Berlusconi of buying votes, amid widespread allegations that opposition MPs were lured over to the government's side with the promise of money and political appointments.
The accusations are being formally investigated.
About 40 protesters were injured and dozens arrested, while at least 50 police officers were hurt.
There were also protests in Turin, Genoa, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and Milan.
Despite defeating the no confidence motion, Mr Berlusconi and his supporters are back where they started -- at the mercy of Mr Fini and his rebel MPs. Continued political turbulence is almost assured and the country is likely to go to the polls before Mr Berlusconi's term runs out in 2013.
Pier Luigi Bersani, the head of the opposition Democratic Party, said: "The government can't do anything. The political crisis has been made more dramatic by this outcome." (© Daily Telegraph, London)