- By Davide Ghiglione and Paul Kirby
- In Rome and London
Updated 22 minutes ago
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is being treated for a type of chronic leukemia, doctors at the Milan hospital have confirmed.
He was rushed to intensive care on Wednesday with breathing problems and doctors said he was suffering from a related lung infection.
Berlusconi, a four-time prime minister and media mogul, 86, still leads his party and is an elected senator.
But he has had repeated health problems since contracting Covid-19 in 2020.
His colleagues have expressed the hope that he can still return to frontline politics as he continues to lead Forza Italia, a junior centre-right partner in Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s coalition.
“We want to be optimistic,” said Antonio Tajani, Italy’s foreign minister and a leading figure in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
Berlusconi has combined politics with a business career at the helm of a media empire. The last time he held the post of prime minister was in 2011, although his final years in power were marred by corruption and sex scandals.
He was elected to Italy’s upper house, the Senate, last September, but has repeatedly required hospital treatment. He returned to the Milan hospital on Wednesday just six days after being released after days of check-ups.
His personal doctor, Alberto Zangrillo, said that his lung infection was related to a chronic blood condition that he had suffered from for some time. Previous reports said that he had started chemotherapy to combat leukemia.
“It’s stable. It’s a rock. This time it will too.” his younger brother, Paolo Berlusconi, said earlier.
His return to hospital has caused concern in Italy and politicians across the spectrum have wished him well. Ms. Meloni has wished him a speedy recovery, tweeting the words “Forza Silvio”-“Come on, Silvio!”, echoing the name of her political party.
His fiancée Marta Fascina, a deputy from his party, spent the night with him in the hospital and his children visited him for the second time on Thursday.
Forza Italia officials said their leader had spoken Thursday morning with party figures, including Tajani and Maurizio Gasparri, vice president of the Senate.
Berlusconi remains a divisive figure in Italian politics. Earlier this year, he was finally acquitted of bribing young showgirls to lie about their notoriously raunchy “bunga bunga” parties.
Yet both left and right-wing newspapers have paid tribute to the charismatic, if controversial, politician and media mogul.
Several newspapers have wished him well, while others have highlighted the potential impact of his illness on the country’s political landscape.
“All with Silvio” was the main headline of Il Giornale, which belongs to the Berlusconi family, expressing their support and solidarity.
Like the prime minister, Libero, another right-leaning newspaper, opted for “Forza Silvio”, while La Repubblica called him the “intrepid gentleman”. The center-left daily has been a strong critic of his political actions for decades and has extensively covered the repeated scandals surrounding Berlusconi.
Although his environment has minimized the seriousness of his condition, his illness has raised doubts about the future of his political party.
Forza Italia may be part of the ruling coalition, but it has been on the decline in recent years, and Berlusconi’s declining health may further weaken his position. When Tajani spoke to reporters, he said there was only one party leader: “Now let’s hope he comes back to lead the party.”
His condition has also reignited questions about the future of Berlusconi’s business empire, which includes several television channels and publishing houses, making him one of the most influential media moguls in Italy.
His family also owns a minority stake in the AC Monza soccer club, which has risen from the third tier of Italian soccer to Serie A during his five years as owner.
“A cordial greeting, dear president, from all the great red and white family,” tweeted the club’s president, Adriano Galliani.