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Silvio Berlusconi: Italy's ex-PM being treated for leukemia

April 6, 2023

The billionaire former prime minister of Italy is in intensive care in a hospital in Milan. His doctors said he has been diagnosed with leukemia, but not an acute form of the blood cancer.

Silvio Berlusconi, pictured in October 2022 in Italy's Senate.
Image: Andrew Medichini/AP/picture alliance

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been suffering from a type of blood cancer for some time and is currently in intensive care for a lung infection related to it, his doctors said on Thursday.

The doctors said in a statement that Berlusconi was diagnosed with Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia and that it was not an acute form.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, told Rai Uno radio that he had spoken to the media magnate's doctor and that he was stable.

"He told me Silvio Berlusconi had a quiet night, his condition is stable," he said, adding to earlier statements that the former leader had "a problem concerning an unresolved infection".

Berlusconi was hospitalized Wednesday in intensive care at San Raffaele hospital in Milan. The 86-year-old had also been to hospital for several days just last week. In a March 31 tweet, he thanked "all those who wanted to send a thought or sign of affection in these days."

A view taken on April 5, 2023 shows reporters outside the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, where former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was admitted in intensive care for heart problems.
Journalists were on vigil outside the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan on ThursdayImage: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

"He's a rock, so he is going to make it this time as well," Berlusconi's younger brother Paolo told reporters on Wednesday evening as he left the hospital.

Berlusconi, a three-time former prime minister, has had a series of health problems in recent years. Many of these have been breathing-related, most famously including his bout with COVID and pneumonia late in 2020. He needed treatment last year for a urinary tract infection and also has a heart condition that required he have a pacemaker fitted several years ago. 

Three-time prime minister and media mogul

Berlusconi has headed four Italian governments in three stints as prime minister, from as early as 1994 up until 2011, with breaks in opposition in the middle.

Silvio Berlusconi waves as he leaves the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Italy, on Sept. 14, 2020.
Berlusconi caught COVID fairly early in the pandemic, in September 2020Image: Luca Bruno/AP/picture alliance

The powerful media magnate and former AC Milan owner rapidly rose towards the top job in Italian politics in 1994, being elected first as a parliamentarian and then becoming prime minister in the same calendar year. His Forza Italia party gained a relative majority in March 1994's election just three months after being founded. But he would last less than a year in the job before his Cabinet collapsed amid disagreements with allies.

Later in his political career, a series of political scandals, perhaps most memorably what he called his "bunga bunga" parties with young women, began to put his political position in question. Eventually, a 2013 tax fraud conviction meant that he was ineligible to stand for office in Italy for roughly a decade.

But Berlusconi launched a comeback nevertheless, taking up the lead of a reformed Forza Italia party. He ran for a spot in the European Parliament in 2019 to circumvent his ban in Italy.

Last year, he won a seat in the Senate in Italy's general elections. He had flirted with running for the presidency but ultimately did not.

Forza Italia are junior partners in Italy's government, albeit bringing only about a 10% vote share with them. Foreign Minister Tajani, a close ally of Berlusconi, is the deputy leader of the party and its most senior representative in government. 

Berlusconi is also known for his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He sparked controversy since 2022 in several interviews in which he seemed to apportion most blame for the war in Ukraine on the government in Kyiv and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

These comments irked Italy's right-wing government led by Giorgia Meloni, known for a tough line on the Kremlin in a country that's often partly receptive to Russian narratives. Tajani this week said Berlusconi was committed to a peaceful solution to the war.

lo,rm/msh (AP, Reuters)