By Ray Fleming

FOR once those saying “It's too close to call” were proved right when Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a censure vote in the Chamber of Deputies by the paper thin margin of 314-311 votes yesterday. Three heavily pregnant Deputies arrived by ambulance to ensure that their opposition to Berlusconi was recorded, but to no avail. So yet another attempt to force this extraordinary man out of office has failed just as two or three others have done.

His opponents may think that one more push will do the trick but Berlusconi is a formidable figure whose shameless use of the press and TV media he controls ensures that the claims of those who oppose him are quickly countered and returned with interest. To those outside Italy his political style is no more acceptable than his personal habits but to many of the Italian general public he is currently the only political figure of any stature. His claims in the past few days that only he can protect Italy from the ravages of economic threats have probably helped his survival even though Italy is far from safe.

News of Berlusconi's survival provoked demonstrations and violence in the streets of Rome. Students protesting against his university reforms were among those participating but so were trade unions, political parties and the inevitable trouble-makers. There is opposition everywhere to Berlusconi but it seems to lack a strong central figure to focus and articulate it.

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