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Berlusconi, at trial, calls magistrates "cancer"

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi branded magistrates “a cancer of democracy” on Monday as he attended a hearing in one of the four trials he faces.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the Justice Palace in Milan May 9, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

“There is something incredible about this whole trial,” Berlusconi said during a pause in the hearing of a case in which he is accused of bribing British lawyer David Mills with $600,000 (367,400 pounds) to give false evidence about his business interests.

He said accusations had been unfounded in more than 20 other cases brought against him over the years. “If this is not a cancer of democracy you are from another planet,” he said.

The Italian premier faces two other trials for corruption and a fourth -- the most controversial -- for allegedly having sex with an under-age belly dancer and then using his office to cover it up.

Berlusconi denies all the charges and says Milan magistrates are politically biased leftists bent on destroying him. He has launched almost daily attacks against the magistrates but his cancer remark was one of the most extreme.

It was all the more surprising for having been made on a day of commemoration for 10 magistrates killed by leftist guerrillas during the so-called “Years of Lead” three decades ago.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who has frequently tried to call Berlusconi to order, rushed to the defence of the magistrature, saying it had to be treated “with honour.”

Berlusconi said he would ask parliament to establish a commission of inquiry into the ethics of magistrates.

Outside the courthouse several demonstrators held up banners against the prime minister, reminding him of the day of commemoration.

A small group of Berlusconi supporters cheered him, joining in a shouting match with anti-Berlusconi protesters.

Local elections next weekend are seen as a litmus test for the strength of Italy’d ruling centre-right, which some opinion polls say has been damaged by the “Rubygate” sex scandal and Berlusconi’s legal woes.

Writing by Philip Pullella; editing by Barry Moody and Mark Heinrich