Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has taken his claim that he is being persecuted by leftist judges to the G-8 summit, telling a clearly perplexed President Barack Obama that in Italy they represent "almost a dictatorship."
His comments carried on Italian TV news broadcasts from the summit in Deauville, France, set off a barrage of criticism Friday from Italian magistrates and his political opponents.
Italians are used to such statements from Berlusconi, but Obama seemed surprised when Berlusconi approached him and said through an interpreter that his government has proposed a judicial reform because "we have almost a dictatorship of leftist judges."
Berlusconi is currently a defendant in four cases, three related to his business interests and one on charges of paying for sex with an underage teen. He denies wrongdoing.
Although recent opinion polls indicate his popularity has started to sag, the 74-year-old media mogul seems intent on confounding predictions that his long political run might be nearing an end.
"I won't abandon the field of politics until there is a justice system in Italy that is fair and judges who judge according to merit and not according to whether the defendant is friend or foe," Berlusconi told reporters at a closing G-8 news conference.