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Italian voters reject Berlusconi initiatives

Associated Press / June 14, 2011

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MILAN — Italian voters dealt Premier Silvio Berlusconi a serious political blow, overturning laws passed by his government to revive nuclear energy, privatize the water supply, and help him avoid prosecution, final results showed yesterday.

Even before the polls closed, Berlusconi conceded that Italy would probably have to give up plans to return to nuclear energy and instead focus on renewable energy.

“Italy, following the decision that the Italian people are taking in these hours, probably will have to bid farewell to the question of nuclear power plants,’’ Berlusconi said at a news conference with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Final results showed that overwhelming majorities of those casting ballots chose to throw out two laws to privatize the water supply, kill a law reviving nuclear energy, and undo a law offering the Italian leader a partial legal shield in criminal prosecutions. Each referendum passed with about 95 percent of the votes.

Voter turnout topped 57 percent, safely reaching the quorum to validate the referendums for the first time since 1995.

It is the second time Italians have said no to nuclear energy in a referendum. The first was in 1987, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and this time the images of the nuclear disaster in Japan, following the March 11 quake and tsunami, weighed heavily in voters’ minds.

The Italian referendum on nuclear energy came just weeks after Germany announced plans to abandon its nuclear program by 2022, in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. It also came two weeks after Berlusconi’s candidates lost key local elections.

Berlusconi and many of his allies abstained from voting on the ballot questions that were direct challenges to Berlusconi’s policies and his legal tactics in criminal cases in Milan.

Passage of the referendum on whether top government officials could continue to enjoy a “legitimate impediment’’ from defending themselves in court due to official business was the most direct swipe at Berlusconi.

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