MILAN Dozens of parliamentarians from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party demonstrated on Monday outside a Milan court against the former Italian prime minister going on trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor.
The demonstration came after the judges ordered checks to be made on Berlusconi to verify his claim that an eye problem meant he was unable to attend a hearing on Monday.
The checks add to an increasingly bitter legal and political battle around Berlusconi as parties struggle to deal with the aftermath of February's election which left none of them able to form a government.
"We consider this scandalous and not worthy of the normal functioning of a justice system in a civilised country. It is extremely serious," Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.
Berlusconi, who faces a series of court hearings in separate trials this month, has been in hospital since Friday because of an eye problem that he says has forced him to cancel a number of public appointments.
Monday's hearing was expected to be one of the final dates in the case, in which Berlusconi is charged with paying for sex with former nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby", when she was below the minimum age of 18. A final ruling is expected on March 18.
He denies any wrongdoing.
However, prosecutors believe that his stay in hospital may only be a delaying tactic. On Saturday judges rejected his argument that he was unable to attend a trial for tax fraud.
He says he has been subject to politically motivated "judicial persecution" by what he says are left-wing judges who want to end his political career.
Three doctors, including a cardiologist and a senior eye specialist were charged with conducting the inspection at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan. Results were expected on Monday.
The court also rejected a request by Berlusconi's two main lawyers for the trial to be delayed because they had to attend a meeting of his People of Freedom party, which they both represent in parliament.
Berlusconi's centre-right alliance holds the second-biggest bloc in parliament but appears to be shut out of government by the hostility of both the centre-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of former comic Beppe Grillo.
Our top photos from the last 24 hours.