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Berlusconi remains hospitalized with eye problems; court medic says not so bad to skip hearing

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi remained hospitalized Saturday with an eye inflammation, but court-appointed doctors said the condition was not severe enough to prevent him from attending a hearing in his tax fraud appeal.

San Raffaele hospital's chief ophthalmologist, Francesco Bandello, told reporters that Berlusconi's condition, specifically bilateral uveitis, had only moderately improved overnight and was expected to remain hospitalized at least until Sunday.

Berlusconi's legal team had submitted petitions to delay the hearing Saturday based on the 76-year-old former premier's medical condition. However, the court ordered a visit by independent physicians, who said the ailments were not so severe as to prevent his attendance. The court continued the hearing.

Berlusconi's defense lawyer Nicolo Ghedini complained that the court was in a hurry to reach a verdict in the case, due March 23. The appeal is on Berlusconi's October conviction on a tax fraud charge relating to the sale of TV rights to air Hollywood movies on his networks. Prosecutors are seeking to uphold the four-year sentence, which includes a five-year ban on public office.

The court "is not interested at all in the fact that there is a sick defendant," Ghedini said. "It seems that the concern is to avoid having the statute of limitations run out and not in a possible acquittal." He said the statute of limitations expire next year. A verdict is only final once a second appeal to Italy's highest court is completed.

On Friday, judges granted a defense petition to delay a hearing in Berlusconi's sensational sex-for-hire trial because of the eye inflammation.

Verdicts in both trials are due in the coming weeks, a politically sensitive time as Italy seeks to negotiate a stable government following inconclusive elections.

Berlusconi's center-right coalition finished second, although the center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has ruled out joining forces in a sort of grand coalition. Talks on forming a new government are not set to begin before March 20, with Parliament convening for the first time next week followed by elections of leaders in both houses.