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Italy's Berlusconi vows to run for prime minister again

By Livia Borghese and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
December 10, 2012 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Rumors about the 76-year-old Berlusconi's intention to run again for office have been floating around for months.
Rumors about the 76-year-old Berlusconi's intention to run again for office have been floating around for months.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime Minister Mario Monti plans to step down after passage of a budget, stability measures
  • "I return to politics with despair and out of a sense of responsibility," says Silvio Berlusconi
  • The 76-year-old insists he is entering the race to win
  • He resigned in November 2011 amid a national economic crisis

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

Rome (CNN) -- Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday he would run again as his country's leader, signaling a return to the limelight for the nation's most flamboyant politician.

The billionaire resigned as prime minister just over a year ago at the height of his country's debt crisis, bringing to an end an 18-year era in which he dominated Italian politics.

Profile: Italy's most colorful political figure

Since then, Italy has been run by an unelected, technocratic government headed by economist Mario Monti.

Monti plans to step down after passage of a national budget and stability measures, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement Saturday after meeting with Monti.

Understanding the Italian power struggle
Berlusconi's scandal-filled career
Berlusconi sentenced, blames politics

"The prime minister doesn't consider it possible to further carry out its mandate and thus he expressed his intention to resign," it read. The statement referenced comments made this week by the secretary of Berlusconi's party, who said that the party considers "Monti's experience concluded."

If Monti resigns before the new year, elections could be held as early as next February, a few months earlier than the natural end of the legislature.

In a message posted on his website and Facebook page, Berlusconi said: "I'm besieged by my people that are requesting that I get back in the battlefield leading the People of Freedom, PDL party."

He said the center-right coalition had searched for a new leader, but there was no one to replace him.

"I return to politics with despair and out of a sense of responsibility," he said.

But, he added, "I enter the race to win."

When he resigned in November 2011, Berlusconi said he did not intend to run for office when elections were held again.

But the 76-year-old's intention to return to frontline politics has been rumored in the months since.

In October, a Milan court sentenced Berlusconi to four years in prison for tax evasion.

However, under the Italian legal system, he and his fellow defendants have the right to appeal their sentence twice, in the appeals court and a higher court.

Also, because the case dates to July 2006, the statute of limitations will expire next year, meaning there is a good chance none of the defendants will serve any prison time.

Through the years, Berlusconi has been accused of embezzlement, fraud and bribery, but the tax evasion case marked the first time he had been convicted of an offense.

Berlusconi also faces trial on charges that he hired an underage prostitute and later tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was accused of theft.

The woman involved in the long-running case is Moroccan dancer Karima el Mahroug, nicknamed "Ruby the Heart-stealer."

CNN's Livia Borghese reported from Rome, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London.

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