Berlusconi faces vote to oust him permanently from Italy Senate

ROME -- Time has run out for four-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The Senate was to hold an open vote Wednesday on whether to kick the 77-year-old media magnate out of parliament permanently because of a fraud conviction.

In August, a Milan court found him guilty of establishing an illegal system to reduce the tax bill of his media company Mediaset. An Italian law bans convicted criminals from sitting in parliament.

Berlusconi has always maintained his innocence and claimed his sentences are politically motivated. Italians have long been divided on the issue and in the run-up to the vote they voiced strong opinions both in favor and against the expulsion vote.

Berlusconi is a man either loved or hated by his countrymen; seen alternately as the country’s savior, or the cause of its woes.

Those sentiments were on display Wednesday in the streets of Rome, where two opposing demonstrations were organized. Thousands were expected to turn out and security was increased across the capital, including efforts to prevent the two gatherings from crossing paths.

The former Italian premier has spared no effort to try and change the course of events. As the scheduled date of the vote drew closer, he called for a presidential pardon, describing the vote to expel him as a coup d'etat. He even called on senators to delay the expulsion vote.

"From the first of August until now I have passed the worst and most terrible days of my life. Because you cannot possibly imagine the indignation that I feel against a conviction (for something) that I didn't do. And the indignation is increased by the fact that this conviction brought a terrible judgment against me as a businessman, on my history as an entrepreneur and as a statesman," he said.

Berlusconi argued that he has been, "an exemplary citizen who has always paid his taxes and is one of the highest taxpayers in the country, and who believes that in his life he has always made a positive contribution to his fellow citizens and to his country."

On the eve of the vote, Berlusconi's Forza Italia party withdrew support from the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta. But there are no longer fears that the government will collapse or that its stability will be compromised in the short term, as Berlusconi's party split last week. The prime minister can still count on support from the former Forza Italia members who formed a new center-right party.

Berlusconi burst onto Italy's political stage in January 1994. Over the last two decades in politics, he has faced dozens of trials and investigations.

The Milan court that convicted him of tax fraud, sentenced Berlusconi to four years in prison, commuted to a year under house arrest or in community service. Berlusconi was also handed a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted of paying an underage girl for sex. However, there are two levels of appeal remaining following that conviction.

By CBS Radio News correspondent Sabina Castelfranco