Newsmaker - Showman Berlusconi leaves amid jeers and boos
Sat Nov 12, 2011 10:15pm GMT
By Barry Moody
ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi dominated Italy for 17 years with a
unique mix of political talent and brazen behaviour but left office brought
low by the power of bond markets with the jeers of the Roman crowd ringing
in his ears.
A born showman with a self-declared but real talent for making himself
liked, the 75-year-old media magnate appeared embittered and isolated as he
was driven to the residence of President Giorgio Napolitano to resign
In scenes reminiscent of the fate of his shamed predecessor Bettino Craxi as
he left a Roman hotel in 1993, Berlusconi departed the political scene with
angry crowds hurling insults at his limousine.
After handing in his resignation, Berlusconi left the Quirinale Palace by a
side entrance as thousands of demonstrators chanted "Clown! Clown!" the
insult traditionally hurled at disgraced Italian politicians.
The departure of Italy's longest serving prime minister put a seal on weeks
of turmoil on financial markets that has left Italy dependent on help from
the European Central Bank to stem a crisis that threatens the entire euro
It also brought down the curtain on a remarkable political career that
stretched from the "Bribesville" corruption affair that destroyed the old
political order in the 1990s to a fresh era of scandal.
Bolstered by unrivalled communication skills and a dominance of Italian
media, Berlusconi had for years seemed immune to a series of controversies
that would have destroyed a politician in most other parts of the world.
They included the lurid "Rubygate" scandal in which he was charged with
having sex with an under-age prostitute, and a wave of salacious revelations
from police wiretaps about alleged orgies at his luxurious Milan villa.
He also faces two ongoing fraud court cases, the latest in more than 30
prosecutions by magistrates he accuses of being communists bent on
The perma-tanned media tycoon, once a cruise ship crooner, was always
unrepentant about a notoriously off-colour sense of humour and a series of
diplomatic gaffes which have led many foreign leaders to try to avoid being
photographed near him.
Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, had been in political decline for
most of this year, his former mastery undermined by glaring misjudgments in
local elections and three referendums, as well as the loss of a key
Often derided abroad for his facelifts, hair transplants, make-up and
gaffes, Berlusconi until recently commanded a large following particularly
among middle-class women, pensioners and the self-employed, striking a chord
with his warnings about the dangers of left-wing extremists.
But with lurid details from assorted sex and corruption scandals filling
newspapers for months and bitter government infighting poisoning the
atmosphere around him, Berlusconi's touch increasingly deserted him.
He had seemed to have a good chance of hanging on for scheduled elections in
2013, until markets panicked by the Greek crisis turned on Italy, focussing
on the inability of Berlusconi's squabbling government to pass meaningful
Up to the last, Berlusconi appeared to underestimate the gravity of the
crisis, declaring this month that "restaurants are full, you have trouble
booking seats on planes" as the economic pain mounted for millions of
As markets focussed on Italy's huge public debt and stagnant economy,
Italy's government bonds came under huge pressure and the European Central
Bank had to move in August to buy bonds on the market to stop the crisis
In return it demanded tough economic reforms, effectively dictating
government policy and destroying Berlusconi's boasts that he had shielded
Italy from the euro zone debt crisis.
With his coalition crumbling around him and borrowing costs soaring out of
control, Berlusconi finally agreed to resign after losing a crucial vote in
But in an sign of how much the collapse of market confidence was focussed on
him individually, bond yields soared even higher the day after the
announcement because of market uncertainty about whether he would really go.
Napolitano had to publicly assure markets the flamboyant billionaire would
go and accelerated the political transition.
Berlusconi's final demise was a far cry from 2008 when a landslide victory
gave the media tycoon his strongest electoral mandate. He had been prime
minister for longer than any postwar leader, painting himself as the only
choice for the dominant conservative voting bloc and a bastion against
But he did not have long to savour his third election triumph. In 2009 his
estranged wife Veronica denounced his sex life and accused him of consorting
with under-age women, finally sowing doubts in the minds of voters who had
hitherto been charmed by his image as a self-made macho Latin male.
In addition, Berlusconi has persistently shown himself to be better at
promises than action, failing to implement pledges in 2008 to use his
business acumen to liberalise a notoriously inflexible and protected
As owner of Italy's main private television channels and top-flight soccer
team AC Milan after making a fortune in a Milan construction boom, he
typified an Italian dream, with millions won over by his rags-to-riches
story and optimism.
Berlusconi created his own party almost overnight in 1994 to fill the void
on the right caused by the destruction of the long-dominant Christian
Democrats by a corruption scandal.
His media empire Mediaset has a near-duopoly in television with state-run
RAI over which, as premier, he had ultimate control. This gave him a
much-criticised stranglehold on Italian media while he was accused of
lowering cultural values with variety shows dominated by scantily clad
Critics also say he used his political and media power to fend off many
In the last year the Catholic Church has distanced itself from him,
following reports of starlets and prostitutes dancing half-naked for him in
return for cash and gifts. He boasted in one phone call of having sex with
eight women in one night.
Berlusconi has always maintained the dinners he hosted were jovial affairs
that involved little more than food, jokes and song. His only concession has
been to say he is "no saint" and loves beautiful women.
(Writing by James Mackenzie and Barry Moody; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Sat Nov 12 2011 - 19:24:16 EST