The controversial debate over Silvio Berlusconi's conflict of interest law, to be held in the Italian parliament this week, is set to co-incide with a 100,000-strong mass protest against the government in Rome.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has expressed fears that the event could develop into violence. Last weekend, 40,000 demonstrators protested against the government in Milan.

While protests have been fuelled by a number of government policies, the debate over conflict of interest which has dogged Berlusconi for years will reache a critical peak, this week after the government's appointment of a new five-member board for state broadcaster RAI on Friday Feb 22.

Critics charge that the appointments have put government supporters in charge of RAI, and that news and current affairs programs could become biased in favour of Berlusconi, who already owns RAI's only significant rival, private broadcaster Mediaset - and its three networks.

New board member Antonio Baldassare, a former president of the Italian constitutional court, who is expected to be officially appointed president of RAI this week, vowed that he would remain impartial. He further denied allegations that he would hand effective control of the country's airwaves to Berlusconi.

"I will not be at the service of any government," Baldassarre said in an interview with Italian daily Il Tempo. "I think that for once there can be a change and that RAI can leave behind the usual politicking that has marked it up until now."

Berlusconi has failed to keep his campaign promise to resolve the conflict of interest issue within 100 days of taking office last May, and critics are now demanding a politically unaffiliated president for RAI.

Last week, opponents blocked the nomination of Carlo Rossella, a renowned journalist, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Berlusconi-owned weekly magazine Panorama.

The choice of Baldassare as president and the likely nomination of Raiuno head Agostino Sacca as CEO, increased the controversy, as both are considered to be close to Berlusconi.

The four other new board members are are Carmine Donzelli, who works in publishing, Luigi Zanda, a lawyer, Marco Staderini, managing director of the state's Lottery operator and Ettore Albertoni, a local councillor for culture.