Italy to ban convicted criminals from parliament, government

ROME, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's

cabinet introduced new rules on Thursday to keep convicted

criminals out of politics, as Silvio Berlusconi's scandal-ridden

People of Freedom party withdrew its support for the government

in parliament.

With national elections expected in the next few months, the

measure is aimed at restoring credibility to a political system

shaken by a series of scandals. Italy's audit court has

estimated that corruption costs the state about 60 billion euros

($77.92 billion) per year.

The measure, which would apply to definitive convictions

upheld by two appeals courts, was not the reason for Thursday's

political tensions, People of Freedom (PDL) Secretary Angelino

Alfano told reporters.

He said it was Monti's economic policy that prompted his

party to withdraw its support in two confidence

votes.

However Berlusconi's PDL party has been the hardest hit of

the main parties by recent corruption probes, and the former

premier himself has had a long battle with magistrates over the

last 20 years.

In October, a PDL member of Lombardy's regional government

was arrested on suspicion of buying votes from the Calabrian

mob, a scandal that later forced the governor of the country's

wealthiest region to call a vote three years before the end of

his mandate.

A separate corruption scandal involving a PDL politician

brought down the local government in Lazio, the region around

the capital Rome.

The 76-year-old Berlusconi, who has repeatedly been tried

for corruption and is currently facing three trials, will still

be able to run for parliament - as he strongly hinted he would

do on Wednesday - under the new rules because he has never been

definitively convicted.

Under the new rules, anyone definitively convicted of

serious crimes will not be allowed to run for all levels of

public office for at least six years following conviction, and

depending on the gravity of the crime, perhaps longer.

Italian media have estimated that as many as 20 members of

the current parliament may not be able to run again because of

previous convictions.

The measure will be reviewed by parliamentary commissions

but because it was already approved as part of a broader

anti-corruption law in October, it does not have to be voted on

again.

($1 = 0.7700 euros)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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