Berlusconi: 'Bunga bunga for everyone!'

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Silvio Berlusconi arrived in Rome to cheers from supporters. Photo: Emilio Andreoli/AFP
08:35 CET+01:00
Less than 24 hours after his final acquittal of paying for underage sex and abusing power, Silvio Berlusconi was back on the campaign trail Wednesday promising "Bunga bunga for everyone!"

Though analysts voiced some doubts as to whether a political comeback would be easy, dozens of delighted supporters turned out to cheer the 78-year-old former prime minister as he arrived for a celebration at his secondary residence in Rome.

"I will carry this memory for ever in my heart," he was quoted as saying by Italian media.

Then, displaying the gift for a one-liner that helped him win three terms as premier, the former cruise-ship crooner added: "But that's enough emotion for now. Bunga, bunga for everyone!"

The media magnate had reason to celebrate after Italy's top court quashed once and for all accusations that he paid for sex with a starlet nicknamed "Ruby the Heart Stealer" at what became known as "bunga bunga" parties because of their sex-fuelled nature.

"Finally the truth. Today is a beautiful day for politics, justice, the rule of law," Berlusconi said in an earlier statement. "I am back in the field, to build... an Italy that is better, freer and fairer."

The ex-premier's lawyer Franco Coppi had told the court that while "not even the defence team is denying acts of prostitution took place" at Berlusconi's raunchy dinner parties and hot-tub sessions, it was all above board.

The judges said there was no proof the self-proclaimed Latin lover knew the buxom dancer was just 17 at the time.

'Always able to surprise'

Some commentators said the billionaire would now be gearing up for general elections expected to be held in 2018, but analysts cast doubt on his chances of resuming a heavyweight role in Italian politics.

"Berlusconi is still Berlusconi, and is always able to surprise," Franco Pavoncello, professor of political science at Rome's John Cabot University, told AFP.

"From a legal point of view he is free to take to the field again, but what remains to be seen is whether he has the physical strength. The years are passing and he is giving signs of slowing down," he said.

Berlusconi has just wound up a community service order for tax fraud and still faces accusations of bribing a senator for political gains and paying off witnesses in the Ruby case.

These are thought unlikely to prevent him from trying to spearhead opposition to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's reform plans, though his centre-right Forza Italia is fragmented and he faces leadership challenges.

Rising star Matteo Salvini, 42, head of the anti-immigration Northern League party, has an eye on Berlusconi's throne.

"Salvini has nothing to fear from a man who is, by now, on his political deathbed," said Marco Tarchi, political science professor at Florence University. Polls put Salvini well ahead of Berlusconi in terms of popularity.

"Berlusconi's time is up, even if he and his allies refuse to realise it," Tarchi added.

He may pick some fights with Renzi, particularly with regional elections looming in May, but the media magnate is unlikely to want to unseat the government and spark early elections.

'Prostitutes blackmail threat?'

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Berlusconi's tax fraud sentence saw him banned from public office for two years starting in 2014. He is also subject to a 2012 law banning convicted MPs from running for office for six years, which Berlusconi is appealing in the European Court of Human Rights.

Political observers at Il Sole 24 Ore daily said getting the law changed would now be top of the tycoon's to do list.

In any case, three years after completing his tax sentence Berlusconi will be able to request his slate be wiped clean, Italian media reports say, in which case he could run, in 2018, for a fourth stint as prime minister.

But Giacomo Marramao, of Roma Tre University, says the AC Milan football club owner is more worried about protecting his business interests - and in any case has undermined his chances of a return by bedding prostitutes.

"He has lost the trust of the Italian electorate, not by having lovers but having indiscriminate relations with prostitutes which leave him vulnerable to blackmail," he said.

"Who knows how many of these women have been privy to inside details of Italian or international politics?" Marramao said.

Berlusconi "may be ready to fight a few battles" but from now on he is likely to be little more than "an elderly father" to the right, the academic added.

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