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Silvio Berlusconi is back in the headlines after he was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over his support of the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta in a crucial parliamentary vote.
While it has been almost two years since he was forced to resign as prime minister, Berlusconi has never been out of the Italian political spotlight.
One of politics' greatest survivors in his eight-and-a-half years in power, Berlusconi has managed to shrug off many scandals. But it now seems that members of his party are tiring of Berlusconi's antics.
Earlier this weekend, Italy's longest-serving prime minister, ordered ministers from his People of Freedom party (PdL) to resign from government, forcing current premier Enrico Letta to call a vote of confidence in what left of his fragile coalition government.
However, members of his own PdL party have since rebelled, arguing it would be a mistake to let the government fall. Now the former prime minister has said his party will vote in favor of Letta.
Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in November 2011 after failing to demonstrate majority support in a vote in the lower house of Parliament.
The former prime minister, Italy's longest-serving, is preparing to face a vote to remove him from his seat in the upper house after Italy's highest appeal court upheld his conviction for tax fraud.
The 77-year-old billionaire -- long associated with sex scandals and accusations of inefficiency and failing to tackle Italy's structural problems -- may no longer be deemed a credible figure to lead his party.
Continue reading for some of the prime minister's "greatest" hits that offended millions of his fellow countrymen and a good portion of the world's leaders.
“I am accused of having said that the (Chinese) Communists used to eat children, but read 'The Black Book of Communism' and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilize the fields.”
Berlusconi said the above to crowds when campaigning for elections in 2006, the comments coming in the middle of China’s “The Year of Italy,” a government-sponsored extravaganza designed to promote a better understanding of Italian culture.
“I know in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo. You would be perfect.”
Berlusconi violated all the rules of diplomacy when, while speaking in the European Parliament in 2003, he suggested that Martin Schulz (pictured), a heckling German member of Parliament, would make an ideal Nazi concentration camp guard in an upcoming film.
Berlusconi expressed surprise that his remark had caused offense. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am saddened that there's been a misinterpretation."
Arriving at a NATO summit in 2009, Berlusconi left the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, waiting around for more than 15 minutes as he chatted on his mobile phone. As Merkel stood waiting to greet him on the red carpet, he waved her away and pointed to his phone. Merkel finally opted to start the event’s opening ceremony without the Italian leader.
This was not the worst instance of disrespect between the two. In a 2011 taped conversation with an Italian newspaper editor, Berlusconi reportedly referred to the German Chancellor as “unf***able” and a “lard-*ss.”
Following the 2009 Group of 20 nations (G20) meeting in the U.S., Berlusconi told a rally in Milan, "I bring you greetings from a person who is called...a person who is sun-tanned...Barack Obama." Referring to First Lady, Michelle Obama, he added, "You wouldn't believe it, but they go sunbathing at the beach together — his wife is also sun-tanned."
Contrary to the wide perception of Berlusconi as a man focused entirely on carnal and commercial desires, his own reflections present a vision of a man sacrificing himself for the benefit of his people. That sense of martyrdom has become a recurring theme. In 2006, he complained, "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone." In 2009, he declared himself “the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man."
Many Italians go to church, but in Berlusconi’s case the church came to him. At a political rally in Milan, a man in attendance struck Berlusconi in the face with a model of the city’s cathedral, knocking out two of his teeth and breaking his nose.
Italian newspapers carried transcripts from a call dated Jan. 1, 2009, in which Berlusconi allegedly told Gianpaolo Tarantini, a local businessman alleged by prosecutors to be running a high-end prostitution ring, that 11 women were waiting outside his door, but he only "did" eight of them because "you can't do all."
After advising young women to marry older men for money at a youth rally in September 2010, he added: "Women are lining up to marry me. Legend has it, I know how to do it."
In November 2010, an unrepentant Berlusconi responded to accusations about his private life by saying, "It's better to like beautiful girls than to be a gay."
Just before European elections, Italian newspaper La Repubblica said that Berlusconi had attended the eighteenth birthday party of Noemi Letizia, an aspiring show girl from Naples who referred to the prime minister as “Daddy” and had received gifts from him. Berlusconi condemned the “vile” reports regarding his links to the girl, but his wife, Veronica Lario, shortly afterward announced that she was seeking a divorce and publicly complained about her husband's roving eye. A report quoted Lario as saying that she could no longer be with a man who “cavorts with minors,” adding that her husband was “the dragon to whom virgins offer themselves for success and notoriety.”
In 2010, Italian media reported that after being accused of theft, Karima El Mahroug, a teenage Moroccan nightclub dancer known as “Ruby the Heartbreaker,” had been released by police in Milan following an intervention from Berlusconi. The prime minister allegedly claimed to police that El Mahroug was the niece of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Shortly afterward, in January 2011, prosecutors in Milan confirmed that they were investigating Berlusconi for abuse of office and paying for sex with a teenage prostitute — El Mahroug. While both Berlusconi and Mahroug have denied the charges, the case is ongoing and led to the phrase “Bunga-Bunga” — Berlusconi short-hand for a wild sex party — entering the world’s vocabulary.
Berlusconi, who started his career as a nightclub crooner, delayed the release of his latest album of sentimental love songs in 2011, entitled “True Love,” due to the economic crisis engulfing Italy.
A sneak preview in Italian daily La Stampa of one song, named “Music,” revealed that Berlusconi's famous passion had not been dampened by the various allegations against him.
"Listen to these songs, they are for you," it begins. "Listen to them when you have a thirst for caresses, sing them when you are hungry for tenderness."
In a July 2011 telephone call, secretly recorded by police investigating claims that Berlusconi was being blackmailed, the prime minister raged, “In a few months, I'm getting out to mind my own f***ing business, from somewhere else, and so I'm leaving this sh***y country of which I'm sickened.”
While his timing on “getting out” has proven accurate, whether Berlusconi will be allowed to leave “this sh***y country” while investigations are pending against him remains to be seen.
After a year out of politics, Berlusconi bounced back in September 2012 with a public criticism of the government of his successor, Mario Monti. He then announced in December that he would run once more for prime minister in the new year. His coalition team, of his PdL party alongside Lega Nord (LN), won 125 seats in the House of Deputies and 117 seats in the Senate. Berlusconi did not become prime minister, but instead his party agreed to support the government of Enrico Letta.
Berlusconi has rarely been out of the Italian political and the media spotlight for the past three decades. He's also rarely been seen outside of a court room. Berlusconi has a record of criminal allegations, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery. Back in 2008, he said that he had spent 174 million euros ($235 million) on legal fees in a string of cases. Berlusconi also revealed in 2008 that he had been visited by the police 577 times and had attended 2,500 court hearings. His current tax fraud conviction comes as no surprise.
After years of various courts cases, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in jail for tax fraud in October 2012, a decision that has been upheld by both the Milan appeals court and Italy's Supreme Court. He was also sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor in June of this year.
This Friday, October 4, the Senate Committee will cast a final vote on whether to ban Berlusconi from Parliament, with the full Senate to vote by late October. Berlusconi is expected to start serving his four-year sentence, which has been reduced to one year, either under house arrest or doing unpaid social work, starting in mid-October 2013.