Chatter: Silvio Berlusconi is down, but not out




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Silvio Berlusconi doesn't take things lying down. (Insert your own "bunga bunga" joke here.) So it should come as no surprise that Italy's king of comebacks has vowed to fight the Supreme Court's ruling that his prison sentence for tax fraud must stand.

Admittedly, it's not clear what options are left. Legally there's nowhere else to appeal — and that's the problem, says Silvio, who released a nine-minute video response to the ruling in which he rails against the "judicial harassment" waged against him by an ungrateful justice system. It may look like the ramblings of a delusioned old man — albeit a much hair-plugged one who's stolen the prime minister's office furnishings — but remember: the court didn't ban him from public office, and Italian voters are notoriously forgiving. Berlusconi may yet be back. 

Zimbabwe's elections were "free, honest and credible." What a relief! We were all worrying about those fraud allegations for nothing. That's so long as you believe Olesegun Obasanjo, the head of the African Union's observer mission, who said today that none of the suspected irregularities stood to change the vote's outcome.

That outcome, need we add, looks to be a resounding victory for President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF. His opponent, the Movement for Democratic Change's Morgan Tsvangirai, had appealed to the AU and other watchdogs to investigate what he called the "huge farce" that was Wednesday's vote. While the AU has yet to prounounce its official verdict, it looks like it won't be rocking the boat.


Stay-at-home Sunday. The United States has given orders to its embassies to stay closed this Sunday, citing a possible security threat. Missions across the Muslim world — the only ones that would usually be open on a Sunday — will remain shuttered as a "precautionary measure," according to the State Department.

Is it because it's Barack Obama's birthday? Or the new Iranian president's inauguration day? Or is it, as some reports have claimed, to do with an Al Qaeda-related threat? The State Department won't say — but it must be feeling extra cautious since the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11.

Where lawmakers are lawbreakers. Perhaps Berlusconi should consider changing his citizenship: he'd fit right in amongst Indian legislators, more than a quarter of whom are facing criminal convictions. According to an election watchdog, a staggering 162 out of 543 honorable members of India's lower house are up against criminal charges — and worse still, statistics show that a candidate with a record is nearly twice as likely than one without to win a seat at the big table.

Now, the Supreme Court has finally made a move to stop candidates contesting elections from behind bars (that's not even an exaggeration. That really happens), much to political parties' dismay. Can it put a stop to the shenanigans? The smart money says no. Here's why.

Captor captured. Ariel Castro, the man who kidnapped three women and kept them chained in his house for 11 years, is finding out what it's like to fear you'll never be free again: a judge has sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Castro, who subjected his victims to rape, beatings and starvation during their years barricaded inside his house in Cleveland, Ohio, pleaded guilty to hundreds of charges, even while claiming that he wasn't in control of his actions. "I spent 11 years of hell," one of his former captives told him in court. "Now your hell is just beginning." 


Mine's bigger than yours. Ah, Russia. A land where whistleblowers are heroes (so long as they're not Russian), where "propaganda" can make you gay, where men are men and presidents are men and president-men catch fish. And so it was that in the Russian Federation, President Putin caught a fish. A really big fish. So big, in fact, that some doubted it was real. Whatever, he was pleased with himself.

Well, welcome to Belarus, Vlad. In Belarus, the authoritarianism is bigger and so are the fish. President Alexander Lukashenko claims he caught a catfish a good 12 kilos heavier than Putin's pike. An idle brag? The legacy of Chernobyl? Who knows. But don't be surprised if you see Putin's naked arms hauling a suspiciously dopey-looking shark from Siberian waters sometime soon.