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Protests after Berlusconi wins vote

Violent protests have erupted in Rome after Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi won back-to-back confidence votes in parliament, narrowly surviving one of his toughest political challenges yet.

Police had to use tear gas to stop angry demonstrators from torching cars and smashing windows.

Inside parliament's lower house, tensions boiled over as MPs pushed and shoved each other, forcing a brief suspension in the voting.

Ultimately, Mr Berlusconi survived the lower house's no-confidence motion by just three votes. He had secured a more comfortable victory in a confidence vote at the Senate earlier on Tuesday.

But he was left with a razor-thin majority that will make it hard for him to govern effectively.

As MPs cast their votes, the violent core of anti-Berlusconi protesters outside clashed with police.

The outcome of the highly uncertain votes attested to Mr Berlusconi's uncanny ability to survive, even when nearly all indications pointed to a government collapse.

He was weakened from a year dominated by sex scandals, corruption charges against some of his aides and a break-up with a close ally that had put into question whether he could still muster a parliamentary majority.

But the 74-year-old battled back, succeeding in swaying a few crucial MPs to vote in his favour and pressing the case that stability trumped political infighting at a time of economic crisis. The results were closely watched as Italy has a high public debt level and slow growth.

The outcome marked a victory for Mr Berlusconi over the one-time ally who has become his most bitter rival, Gianfranco Fini. By contrast, it dealt a blow to Mr Fini's ambitions to replace Mr Berlusconi as conservative leader, at least in the short term.

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