Berlusconi a step nearer to losing his seat on Italian senate
Ex-PM in defiant TV plea after fraud conviction, but eligibility committee vote goes against him
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has vowed to stay in politics to keep leftists from power.
But his impassioned plea came shortly before lawmakers dealt him a setback in his battle to keep his senate seat despite his conviction for tax fraud.
In a pre-recorded video carried on Wednesday by major television networks, Berlusconi appealed emotionally to Italians to help him invigorate his centre-right movement Forza Italia that propelled him into the premier's office nearly 20 years ago.
He also insisted he was "absolutely innocent" of any wrongdoing in the fraud case stemming from the purchase of film rights, as well as in dozens of other criminal proceedings against him during his political career.
The vote by the senate election eligibility committee to reject a recommendation by one of his party's senators that Berlusconi keep his seat, is only a first step in a complicated process that could stretch out for months before any final action is taken by parliament's upper house.
But while the process drags on, political tensions threaten the survival of the Italian government, which includes Berlusconi's centre-right forces as senior partner.
Centre-left leader Premier Enrico Letta is struggling to ensure the unusual coalition's continuation as he toils to pull the country out of recession.
The committee vote late on Wednesday stems from a law parliament passed last year, banning anyone who is sentenced to more than two years in prison from holding or serving in office for six years.
The tax fraud conviction, upheld by Italy's top criminal tribunal on August 1, carried a four-year prison sentence. In his taped appeal, Berlusconi, 76, encouraged his populist base to rally, saying he was making a "last call before catastrophe" strikes the country. He blamed his judicial woes on "leftist" magistrates.