Italian centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi tells a rally in Rome "we must stay on the field," as fellow senators vote to expel him from parliament.

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Mr Berlusconi suffered one of the heaviest blows of his 20-year political career on Wednesday, as the senate approved his expulsion after tax fraud conviction, with immediate effect.

The vote, after months of political wrangling, will open an uncertain new phase in Italian politics, with the 77-year-old media billionaire preparing to use all his extensive resources to attack Prime Minister Enrico Letta's coalition government.

It is a bitter day, a day of mourning for Italian democracy - Silvio Berlsuconi

A protest by supporters on Wednesday will be "only the beginning", Mr Berlusconi warned this week, saying it would be followed by a series of actions to "defend democracy", though he no longer commands enough support in parliament to bring down the government.

Speaking at that rally, Mr Berlusconi said: "We must not despair if the leader of the centre-right is not a senator any more. There are leaders of other parties who are not parliamentarians.

"It is a bitter day, a day of mourning for Italian democracy."

'Coup d'etat'

Mr Berlusconi, who has dominated politics in Italy for two decades, has already pulled his party out of Mr Letta's coalition after seven months in government, accusing leftwing opponents of mounting a "coup d'etat'" to eliminate him.

Mr Letta declared on Wednesday that his government was now "stronger and more cohesive" after a group of dissidents who split off from Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party helped him win a confidence vote on the 2014 budget late on Tuesday.

He declined to comment on Mr Berlusconi to avoid inflaming an already volatile situation.

Read more: Is the end nigh for Silvio Berlusconi?

A senate committee had proposed declaring Mr Berlusconi ineligible for parliament after he was convicted of masterminding a complex system of illegally inflated invoices to cut the tax bill for his Mediaset television empire.

Under a law passed with Mr Berlusconi's support last year, politicians convicted of serious criminal offences are ineligible for parliament, but his expulsion had to be first be confirmed by a full vote in the senate.

Silvio Berluscon (R)

The court sentenced him to four years in jail, commuted to a year likely to be spent performing community service. He was also banned from holding public office for two years, preventing any immediate return to government.

Both Mr Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and former comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement have declared would vote against Mr Berlusconi.

After tactical skirmishing over the day's agenda, voting was brought forward, and a series of motions challenging the move to expel Mr Berlusconi were made before the main vote.

As tension mounted ahead of the vote, Forza Italia officials denounced police who confiscated a banner reading "coup d'etat" that supporters had planned to hold up at the rally.

The party also said coaches carrying their supporters had been prevented from reaching the centre of Rome, and they would be complaining to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who is the leader of the dissidents who abandoned Mr Berlusconi.

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