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Immunity law passed in Italy
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    ROME — Italy’s Parliament gave final approval Tuesday to a contentious law that grants immunity from prosecution to Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other top Italian officials.
    The Senate passed the legislation by a wide margin after it previously sailed through the lower house of Parliament. Berlusconi’s conservatives have a comfortable majority in both chambers.
    The legislation protects the president, the premier and the two speakers of parliament from court prosecutions while in office. It will enter into effect once President Giorgio Napolitano signs it.
    Critics have charged that the law is aimed at protecting Berlusconi from a current corruption case in Milan. Berlusconi is accused of ordering payment in 1997 of at least $600,000 to his co-defendant, British lawyer David Mills, in exchange for false testimony at two Berlusconi trials in the 1990s.
    The defendants deny the charges. Berlusconi has depicted himself as the victim of left-leaning magistrates.
    But some opposition lawmakers said Berlusconi was using public office for his own private interests. Others in the center-left, who had said they would not be opposed in principle to an immunity law, said that any such measure should not be rushed through parliament and should not take effect immediately.
    Backers of the law contend it is needed to allow the top officials to carry out their jobs without worries.
    Berlusconi, a media mogul and one of Italy’s richest men, has been in a fierce confrontation with the judiciary since he entered politics 15 years ago. The battle erupted again last month when the premier said some magistrates were politically driven and called them a cancer of democracy.
    Conservative lawmakers tried to introduce an immunity law during Berlusconi’s 2001-06 tenure. But in 2004 the country’s Constitutional Court overturned it on grounds that it violated constitutional principles.
    The government said it changed the new immunity bill to take into account the court’s criticism.

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