ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Thursday dismissed Silvio Berlusconi's attacks on judges who convicted him of tax fraud and said he would not allow his fragile coalition government to become the "punching ball" of his fractious coalition partners.
Letta's comments, following weeks of mounting political tensions, came a day after Berlusconi made a bitter attack on what he said were politically biased judges who have sentenced him to imprisonment over a massive tax fraud scheme at his Mediaset television empire.
"Italy has a functioning state of law. There is no persecution in Italy," Letta told a news conference on attracting foreign investment. "In Italy, we respect the independence of the justice system and the work of the magistrates," he said.
(Reporting By James Mackenzie)