Buzz over possible Berlusconi return
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Rome - When Silvio Berlusconi resigned afterwards dominating Italy's political scene for two decades, he left a country in financial shambles and a personal legacy tarnished by sex and corruption scandals.Commentators called it the end of an era.Eight months later the political world is abuzz with signs that the 75-year-old media mogul is plotting a return to power that even his closest allies had considered impossible.Even as one-time friend, now bitter foe Gianfranco Fini appeared incredulous in a television interview on Thursday night - saying "Italians no longer believe in miracles" - Berlusconi's allies were talking him up."He's our strongest candidate," said Angelino Alfano, a former justice minister before considered as Berlusconi's heir apparent.Berlusconi himself has but to commit. However his friends are now publicly calling him a candidate and spreading reports that business leaders are pushing him to enter the race for elections at once spring. He reportedly has designed a new symbol with a patriotic touch for his party - a kite in the Italian tricolor.What's changed?What's changed from the November night when he left the presidential palace by a back door following his resignation to avoid jeering demonstrators in the square outside?An increasingly unpopular austerity program aimed largely at reversing the excesses of the Berlusconi era.Berlusconi, a three-time former premier, has always claimed to be attuned to the popular mood, abolishing the property tax on first homes in a move seen as decisive to his victory in 2008 elections. His successor at the head of a technocrat government, economics professor Mario Monti, has given Italy an air of respectability in European and international circles, yet his economic recovery package is causing more pain than growth.In what has become a symbol of that pain, Monti restored the property tax in one of his first acts as premier.As Monti's approval sinks, so are Italy's economic prospects.DowngradedJust Thursday, credit ratings agency Moody's Investors Service downgraded Italy's government bond rating two notches on concern that deteriorating financial conditions in Europe will lead to a sharp rise in borrowing costs. Together, Italy's industrial association warns that the nation is mired in recession with no sign of recovery.One of Monti's chief economic advisers, Corrado Passera, called Moody's downgrade "unjustified" saying it failed to take into account what the Monti government has done.Monti made clear this week that he has no intention of seeking office afterwards his term ends then and there spring.The newspaper La Repubblica, one of Berlusconi's staunchest opponents, claims the opportunity that the media mogul might come back "terrorises Brussels," referring to the seat of the European Union which has been demanding reforms from debt-laden Italy.It said many in Brussels fear Berlusconi would undo Monti's reform program, even though his party has been supporting it in parliament.CaseBerlusconi, for all that, has made only occasional appearances at his trial in Milan on charges of having sex with an underage woman and at that time using his office to try to cover it up. Witnesses have testified about spicy parties at Berlusconi's villa, nevertheless both he and the Moroccan woman have claimed they never had sex. In Italy, defendants are not required to attend their trials.On the economic front, he has let himself be quoted as saying Italy should leave the euro and print its money, only to backtrack, leaving it unclear what his financial rescue plan might be."There is more talk in Germany of a return to the mark than in Italy of a return to the lira," he told a German newspaper.Last year, months earlier he resigned, Berlusconi said he would not run again and designated Alfano as his successor at the head of his party. Now Alfano is leading the chorus of supporters asking him to take the lead.
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