Europeans fear for their jobs

(ANSA) - Rome, June 18 - Italy's National Magistrates' Association (ANM) on Wednesday warned that around 100,000 criminal trials would be halted under a controversial government proposal to fast-track serious crimes at the expense of 'lesser' offences.

Opposition senators staged a walk-out on Wednesday shortly before the Senate greenlighted the proposal, which critics say is designed to help Premier Silvio Berlusconi get out of an ongoing corruption trial.

Under the government plan, trials relating to crimes committed before June 30 2002 will be suspended for a year, excluding those where the defendant could receive a jail sentence of more than ten years or those connected to the mafia or workplace accidents.

The government says the plan - which forms an amendment to its emergency security decree - will unblock an Italian justice system snowed under with trials and allow it to focus on serious crimes that have a bearing on the country's public safety.

But the ANM said the measure would instead bring ''chaos without precedent'' to the justice system. Among the trials that would  de frozen under the plan is a corruption case in which the premier is accused of paying British corporate lawyer David Mills $600,000 for not revealing details of his media empire in previous Berlusconi trials.

Both Berlusconi and Mills deny wrongdoing. According to Italy of Values senator Silvana Mura, other high-profile trials that could benefit from the suspension are a financial scandal involving the collapse of food giant Cirio and a kickback probe involving Enipower, a subsidiary of Italian energy group ENI.

It could also affect a case that has caused widespread concern abroad in which police are accused of brutality towards anti-globalisation protestors at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001.

Italy of Values leader Antonio di Pietro, a former prosecutor in Milan's 'Clean Hands' probes into political corruption in the early 1990s, said he was planning to lobby for a referendum on the amendment and would begin collecting the 500,000 signatures required.

''We will let citizens know about the personal, arbitrary and criminal use that the premier makes of the government,'' he said.

Democratic Party Senate Whip Anna Finocchiaro, who led the Senate walk-out on Wednesday, said the so-called 'premier-saving' amendment meant that the opposition would no longer work with the government on key institutional reforms. ''Maybe Berlusconi will manage to avoid being sentenced (in the corruption trial), but he has without a doubt let slip a great opportunity to renew Italy,'' she said. Emma Bonino of the opposition Radical Party stayed for the vote despite her objections to the amendment. ''You are about to write a black page (in history), but I will not leave. I want to remember the hall while you approve this amendment as a (mental) photo,'' she said. The plan was approved by the Senate on Wednesday by 161 to 11 votes and must now be passed by the House, where the government has a comfortable majority.

The senate on Wednesday also approved another amendment to the security decree to allow 3,000 army soldiers to join
city police in urban patrolling duties in ten Italian cities. The proposal, which calls for using the soldiers for a renewable six-month period, has come under heavy fire from opposition politicians who say it would mean the ''militarization'' of the country.

By news|||Trial freeze will bring 'chaos'
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