Lawyer strike delays Berlusconi trial


ROME -- The postponement of Silvio Berlusconi's trial became official Monday, when Italian lawyers walked off the job at the start of a five-day strike. The moved coincided with the deposed prime minister's official request today for a recount of the April vote that saw him ousted from office by the thinnest of margins.

The postponement -- the third in the three-week old trial -- was largely expected. The court date had been set for Tuesday but has now been rescheduled for Jan. 12.

The Berlusconi trial has faced two previous delays. The first was when attorneys filed a motion to have the judge removed (the motion was denied) and the second came after Berlusconi fainted at a political rally.

Meanwhile, the now-recovered 70-year-old has made an official request to have the ballots from April's election recounted. Former European Commission president Romano Prodi defeated Berlusconi by just 24,000 votes -- a margin of 49.8% for Prodi to 49.7% for Berlusconi -- to end the media tycoon's five-year tenure in office.

Though Prodi officially took power in May and has been governing the country since, Berlusconi never conceded the election.

Berlusconi's call for a recount comes just as parliament opens an investigation set to determine whether Berlusconi might be guilty of tampering with votes to tilt the results in his favor. On Monday, the controversial leader brushed aside that possibility, saying in an interview carried by his Mediaset network that he suspected votes were miscount in Prodi's favor.

"Whatever the suspicions are, it is impossible to have a democratic government operate after such a close result," Berlusconi said.

It is unlikely that a recount will be carried out so long after the actual vote, and the local media for the most part interpreted Berlusconi's call for a recount as a diversionary tactic from the parliamentary investigation.

"If one side alleges one thing and the other the opposite it becomes a war of words," author and political commentator Carlo Lorenzo Topini said in an interview.

Berlusconi is Italy's richest citizen, with a reported net worth of about $12 billion. While prime minister, his massive personal media holdings combined with those of the state gave him unprecedented control over the nation's airwaves.

Since the April election, Europe's most extensive media empire -- which includes three of seven national television networks, the country's largest publishing house, a major newspaper, Italy's second-largest news magazine, a film production studio, a movie distribution company and a host of Internet-related ventures -- has been a tool of the opposition.