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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dies

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi died on Monday at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. The billionaire businessman built Italy's largest media company before transforming the country's political landscape. Italy's government declared a day of national mourning for Wednesday. Berlusconi, leader of the Forza Italia political party, and the founder of the Mediaset empire was 86 years old. He had been suffering from chronic leukemia "for some time" and had recently developed a lung infection. The former AC Milan owner was hospitalized in Milan on April 5 with a lung infection stemming from the disease. He previously also suffered from heart ailments, prostate cancer, and was hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2020.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Berlusconi was "above all a fighter, he was a man who was never afraid to defend his beliefs and it was exactly that courage, that determination that made him one of the most influential men in the history of Italy."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose close personal relationship with Berlusconi was a point of friction with Meloni, who advocates a much stronger line against Russia, alluded to their past working relationship. "For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend," Putin said. "I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations." Pope Francis issued a message to Berlusconi's eldest daughter, Marina, offering his "heartfelt participation in the mourning for the loss of a protagonist of Italian political life, who held public responsibilities with energetic temperament." The media tower of Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcast empire in Milan carried written messages on Monday saying "bye dad" and "thank you Silvio."

Image: Ferdinando Meazza/AP/picture alliance

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the Italian a "larger than life figure."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Berlusconi "led Italy in a time of political transition and continued to shape his beloved country." AC Milan said the club was deeply saddened and grieving the passing of its "unforgettable" longstanding president, featuring a quote from Berlusconi himself from 1989. It also published a video obituary focused around his time with the club online.

Potential to shake up Italy's ruling coalition

While Berlusconi's party is part of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing coalition, he himself did not have a role in government. As AC Milan owner, Berlusconi oversaw one of the most successful periods in the club's historyImage: Ferdinando Meazza/AP/picture alliance Nevertheless, his death could have an impact on the dynamics of Italian politics

Berlusconi's friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin put him at odds with Meloni, who is staunchly aligned with Ukraine. For the Italian's 86th birthday last September, Putin sent best wishes and vodka while Berlusconi sent back Lambrusco as a thank you.

Checkered legal past, but only one conviction stuck

The four-time premier was a divisive figure in Italian life. Admirers lauded his charisma and force of will, while critics derided him as a populist who wielded political power as a means to enrich himself and his businesses. Berlusconi seemed untouchable despite the personal scandals, with criminal cases either dismissed as statutes of limitations ran out or with the politician securing victory on appeal. Probes targeted his steamy so-called "bunga bunga" parties involving young women and minors, or his business dealings. Only one investigation resulted in a conviction — a tax fraud case involving the sale of movie rights. msh, rc/lo

Source: Deutsche Welle, Reuters, AFP, DPA


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