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Italy's Silvio Berlusconi Says He Will Run For PM

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he will run for the office again in next year's general election.

Speaking near the northern city of Milan, the leader of the right-wing People of Freedom party said: "I'm returning sadly to public service.

"And again, I'm doing it out of a sense of responsibility."

Mr Berlusconi, 76, stepped down in disgrace last year as Italy was on the brink of financial disaster.

His resignation paved the way for a government of unelected technocrats led by current PM Mario Monti.

Mr Berlusconi has since been convicted of tax fraud and now faces plunging poll numbers.

He is also on trial on charges of paying for sex with underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug - an allegation he has denied.

But the ever-combative conservative leader was not deterred. "I am running to win," he said. "The campaign is already on."

His centre-right camp has been in disarray recently, weakened by corruption scandals and infighting over who might succeed Mr Berlusconi as leader.

Italy is to hold a general election in 2013, though the date has not been set.

Mr Berlusconi has been increasingly critical of the government's austerity measures, and this week his party pulled parliamentary support for Mr Monti's government, increasing the likelihood of a snap election.

It will be the sixth national election that Mr Berlusconi contests since he stepped into politics in the mid-1990s on the back of a business empire that includes the country's largest private broadcaster, publishing interests and a football team, AC Milan.

He has won three times and is already the longest-serving Prime Minister in post-war Italy.

Mr Berlusconi will be up against Pierluigi Bersani of the Democratic Party, who has just won a strong endorsement in primary votes held among centre-left voters across Italy.

Mr Bersani is widely seen as a front-runner, though Mr Berlusconi is a formidable campaigner with a history of comebacks.