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World leaders mark death of Berlusconi, Italy’s polarizing ex-prime minister

Silvio Berlusconi has died at the age of 86. Italy’s flamboyant former prime minister had been a fixture of European politics, business and sports since the 1990s.

On Monday, after Italian media reported that Berlusconi died at San Raffaele hospital in Milan — where he had previously been treated for a lung infection linked to his ongoing blood cancer — world leaders began to issue statements about him and his long and controversial political career.

Here are some of their reactions:

In a video shared on Twitter, Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s prime minister, praised Berlusconi as a “fighter” who changed Italy.

“He was a man who had never been afraid to defend his convictions, and it was exactly that courage and determination that made him one of the most influential men in the history of Italy, that allowed him to make real breakthroughs in the world of politics, communications, business,” she said. “With him, Italy learned that it should never have limits imposed on it. It learned that it should never give up. With him, we have fought, won and lost many battles. And for him, too, we will bring home the goals that we set ourselves together. Farewell, Silvio.”

When populist politician Matteo Salvini took over the far-right League party in Italy, he was seen as a direct competitor to Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party for the hearts and minds of conservative Italians skeptical of the European Union.

Following news of Berlusconi’s death, Salvini, now Italy’s deputy prime minister and minister of infrastructure and transport, was effusive in his praise of the man known in Italy as Il Cavaliere, or the Knight.

Berlusconi was “a GREAT ITALIAN,” a “great friend” and “one of the greatest ever, in all fields, from all points of view, without equal,” Salvini said in an Instagram post.

“You have done so much for Italy and for the Italians. You leave a void that is difficult to fill. Starting today we will dedicate all our efforts and all our engagement to continue the thousand roads that you first saw and traced,” Salvini continued.

“I’m broken and I rarely cry. Today is one of those days,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences on the death of Berlusconi, according to the Kremlin’s press service.

“In Russia, Silvio Berlusconi will be remembered as a consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries,” Putin said. “He made a truly invaluable personal contribution to the development of mutually beneficial Russian-Italian partnership.”

Berlusconi’s warm relationship with Putin landed him in some political trouble in Italy after Russia invaded Ukraine. He lamented the war but also argued that Europe should “try to get the Ukrainians to accept Putin’s requests.” And in October, Italian news outlet La Presse reported that Berlusconi said he had “rekindled” his relationship with Putin.

The leader of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, extended his condolences to Berlusconi’s daughter, Maria Elvira Berlusconi, in a telegram sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the pope’s behalf.

The telegram described Berlusconi as a “key figure in Italian political life, who held public responsibilities with an energetic temperament.”

Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, called Berlusconi a “great fighter” and “my friend” in a tweet shortly after the news of Berlusconi’s death emerged.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he was “deeply saddened” by Berlusconi’s death and issued his “heartfelt condolences” to the Italian people and Berlusconi’s family.

“Silvio was a great friend of Israel and stood by us at all times. Rest in peace my friend,” Netanyahu said.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola described Berlusconi in a tweet as a “fighter who led the center-right and has been a key player in politics in Italy and Europe for generations.”

“Father, entrepreneur, [member of the European Parliament], prime minister, senator. He has left his mark and will not be forgotten. Thank you, Silvio,” she added.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte described Berlusconi as “a strong personality” in a tweet about the news.

Rutte was first elected prime minister in the Netherlands in 2010, during Berlusconi’s third stint as Italy’s prime minister, which lasted from 2008 to 2011. “He was the first Italian prime minister I worked with, and I will remember him as a striking and passionate politician,” Rutte said.

Natalia Abbakumova, Amar Nadhir, Stefano Pitrelli and Eve Sampson contributed to this report.


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