Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has seen his popularity ratings plummet in recent weeks, described as “grotesque” a decision by an administrative court to invalidate one of his party's candidate lists for regional elections which was submitted late due to a clerical error.

The administrative court which handed down its decision on Saturday said an exception could not be made for the candidates of the governing coalition, thus striking down an emergency government decree enacted last month that ensured the list would be on the ballot. Regional elections are to be held in Italy at the end of the month and will be a major test for the Prime Minister who is fighting for his political survival.

The court's decision coincided with protests that brought thousands of Italians into the streets of Rome. They were voicing their anger at the Prime Minister's repeated attempts to change rules and enact legislation to protect his own interests.

Speakers at the demonstration criticised the emergency decree on election lists and a series of other legal challenges. Previous protests against the Prime Minister have focused on his attempts to push through legislation that would exempt him from legal proceedings. Mr. Berlusconi is facing prosecution for tax fraud and other financial wrongdoing and has tried to scuttle the cases against him by getting Parliament, where he has a majority, to enact laws that would get him off the prosecutors' hook.

In a television interview, Mr. Berlusconi said the protest was “grotesque” and claimed that the protesters wanted to take away his supporters' voting rights.

Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the largest opposition Democratic Party, called for unity in the opposition to Berlusconi. “A different Italy is possible,” he said.

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