ITALY'S parliament has thrown a lifeline to beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, rebuffing a request by prosecutors to search some of his properties as part of a growing prostitution scandal.
The vote should momentarily divert the flames of the sex investigation which is threatening to engulf Mr Berlusconi.
In a much-needed victory for the besieged leader, parliament rejected the prosecution requests in a 315-298 vote that came after a four-hour debate in the lower house.
They sent the case back to the prosecutors, challenging their jurisdiction. The premier has denied any wrongdoing.
Milan prosecutors claim that Mr Berlusconi paid for sex with a minor and then used his office to cover it up. They wanted to search the offices of Mr Berlusconi's accountant, Giuseppe Spinelli, who allegedly handled payments on behalf of the premier to the minor, as well as other payments to a number of young women who attended parties at his villas.
Ultimately, the vote will have limited impact on the investigation. Magistrates are planning to go ahead with their probe and are expected to issue a request to indict Mr Berlusconi as early as next week.
But the vote was a significant victory in a test of Mr Berlusconi's grip on parliament. The premier's once comfortable parliamentary majority became shaky after he fell out with an ally last year.
"The vote assures the majority that it still has the numbers to go ahead, however narrowly," said Francesco Verderami, a political analyst. "As far as the judicial battle is concerned, nothing changes," he said. "Politically, it is a step forward for Mr Berlusconi."