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Berlusconi gets one-year sentence over wiretapping case

ROME — Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and dominant political figure in Italy, was convicted and sentenced Thursday to one year in prison for his role in the publication of a wiretapped conversation in a newspaper his family owns.

The verdict, handed down in a Milan court, was the second conviction for Berlusconi, the leader of Italy’s main center-right political party, in the past five months. It promises to weaken his position further as negotiations begin this month to form a governing coalition, after inconclusive national elections late last month in which his party, People of Liberty, ran a close second behind the Democratic Party.

After Thursday’s conviction, “it will be difficult for Mr. Berlusconi to have an institutional role in the next government, either in the Senate or in any other Italian institution — he’s out of the game,” said Sergio Fabbrini, director of the school of government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. “But in the Italian public opinion, there won’t be any difference,” he added. “The country is already divided between those who think he is a criminal and those who think he’s a victim. It’s been that way for 15 years.”

—Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

2 Re

WASHINGTON — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Thursday assailed Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster of an Obama administration nominee over drone policy a day earlier, suggesting an emerging split in the Republican Party over anti-terrorism tactics.

McCain, of Arizona, and Graham, of South Carolina, who often team up on national security policy issues, ridiculed Paul’s suggestion during his more than 12-hour appearance on the Senate floor that the president could order a domestic drone strike on a U.S. citizen without due process. Paul had said that he would try to hold up the nomination of John O. Brennan as CIA director unless the administration answered unequivocally that President Barack Obama did not have that power.

McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, noted that Paul had raised the idea that anti-war activist Jane Fonda could have been singled out for a strike during her criticism of that war. He said that claim was unfounded and that the filibuster, which received the backing of members of the Senate Republican leadership, sent a message that was a “disservice to Americans.”

“To allege that the United States, our government, would drop a drone Hellfire missile on Jane Fonda, that brings the conversation from a serious discussion about U.S. policy into the realm of the ridiculous,” McCain said.

—Carl Hulse, The New York Times

UN starts talks to free peacekeepers held by Syrian rebels

United Nations and Arab League officials were reported to be negotiating Thursday with Syrian rebels who seized a group of U.N. troops on patrol in the disputed Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel, seeking to defuse an abrupt escalation of the Syrian conflict that enmeshed international peacekeepers for the first time.

Significantly, Israel signaled Thursday that it had no intention of becoming embroiled in the crisis.

There was no immediate indication when the 21 captives, who are all from the Philippines and were seized Wednesday, might be freed.

“The negotiations are ongoing,” said Raul Hernandez, a spokesman for Philippines Foreign Ministry. “This is between the U.N. peacekeeping force and the group leader of this rebel force. We have been informed that they are unharmed and for the time being they are being treated as visitors and guests.”

Rebel video on the Internet showed six Filipino soldiers in their camouflage uniform in a room with pale, heavy drapes.

The U.N. observer force in the Golan is responsible for maintaining the calm between Israeli and Syrian troops in the demilitarized zone along Syria’s Golan frontier.

Israeli officials have expressed concern about the presence of Islamic extremist groups fighting the Syrian army close to the cease-fire line with Israel. In recent months, Israel has upgraded its troops and surveillance along its northern frontier and is constructing a new border fence.

—Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, The New York Times

Cardinals hold 4th day of talks on new pope

VATICAN CITY — A week after Pope Benedict XVI formally retired, cardinals assembled in here to choose his successor went into a fourth day of soundings and deliberations Thursday without reaching a decision so far on a date to begin the secret papal balloting known as a conclave, a Vatican spokesman said.

Their deliberations were overshadowed Wednesday by a clash of cultures over sharing information with the news media, with American cardinals facing off against fellow cardinals who had seen American forthrightness as a violation of protocol.

The announcement of a date would foreshadow a process of closed-door ballots among 115 cardinals under the age of 80 who are eligible to vote.

The deliberations are held in the Sistine Chapel and require a two-thirds majority — 77 cardinals — to choose a new pope, a choice signaled by a puff of white smoke and a declaration in Latin: “Habemus Papam!” — “We Have a Pope!”

There is no firm deadline for the cardinals to set a date for the conclave to begin.

Before his resignation became effective, Benedict issued an order saying the balloting could begin sooner than the usual 15 to 20 days after the death of a pope.

Additionally, many cardinals have signaled that they are hoping to return to their home dioceses in time for Holy Week, which begins this year on March 24, Palm Sunday, followed by Easter Sunday on March 31.

—Rachel Donadio and Alan Cowell, The New York Times