A court in Milan has adjourned the trial of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minster, accused of corrupting his former tax lawyer.
Berlusconi, who did not attend Saturday's hearing, is on trial for allegedly paying $600,000 to David Mills, a British tax lawyer, in exchange for false testimony during two trials in the mid-1990s.
Mills' parallel trial for the same crime was thrown out by Italy's appeals court on Thursday because the statute of limitations had expired, even though judges decided the crime had taken place.
Italian law sets a 10-year limit for prosecution of judiciary corruption crimes and terms for Berlusconi's trial are set to expire in early 2011.
Berlusconi's lawyers asked the court to suspend the trial until details on the Mills ruling were published, but judges refused because "the trial cannot be suspended for an undetermined amount of time".
The prime minister launched a fresh attack on the country's judges on Friday, likening them to Afghanistan's Taliban and accusing them of using the judiciary for political purposes.
Citing ongoing reforms to the justice system which critics say are designed to make him harder to prosecute, Berlusconi remarked: "I don't think it will please the Taliban in the judiciary."
Giuseppe Cascini, the secretary of Italy's magistrates' union replied, saying that "this escalations of insults and attacks against Italian magistrates is intolerable".
Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, on Saturday called on the prime minister and the magistrates to tone down the "very serious accusations" which fuel "dangerous tensions" between branches of government.
Tens of thousands of Italians congregated on Saturday in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome to protest against Berlusconi under a banner reading "Enough. The law is the same for everyone."
"We are starved of legality," said Angelo Bonelli, the head of the Green party, amongst around 200,000 protesters.
|Demonstrators in central Rome called on Berlusconi to "resign" [AFP]
"Today, the real Taliban is Berlusconi who wants to tie up the hands of the magistrates."
Berlusconi's battles with the law have marked his public life since he burst on to the political scene in the mid-1990s.
The former media tycoon has faced charges including corruption, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties.
He was initially a co-defendant in the Mills trial, but proceedings against him were suspended after parliament approved a law shielding him from prosecution while in office, shortly after he returned to power in 2008.
However Italy's Constitutional Court struck down that legislation last year.
Meanwhile new laws are going through parliament which would have the effect of keeping Berlusconi out of the courts.
One would allow the prime minister or any member of his cabinet to be automatically granted the suspension of legal process for at least 18 months.
Passed by the lower house after a stormy debate, it is to be debated by the senate on March 9.
More legislation would quash any legal action if a final verdict is not handed down within six years of it being launched - which would end a large number of ongoing cases, not just those against Berlusconi.