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Berlusconi says he is running again for premier

Frances d'Emilio, Associated Press

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, Italy's former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, left, talks to Italian Premier Mario Monti, back to camera, at the lower chamber in Rome. Although Berlusconi resigned in disgrace a year ago, has been convicted of tax fraud and now faces plunging poll numbers, the media baron confirmed to reporters Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, that he'll try for a fourth term. Berlusconi yanked support for Premier Mario Monti's technocrat government on Thursday, increasing the prospects for early elections. Monti calls the political crisis triggered by the loss of Berlusconi's support "manageable" and says his government has rescued Italy from financial disaster. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)

ROME (AP) -- Billionaire media baron Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned in disgrace a year ago with Italy tottering through the European debt crisis, on Saturday announced he is running for a fourth term as premier.

Berlusconi, 76, reluctantly stepped down in November 2011 after pressure from international financial markets. He was later convicted of tax fraud and has faced sexual misconduct allegations.

An unelected government of technocrats, led by widely respected economist Mario Monti, was appointed to replace him. Opinion polls have seen the popularity of Berlusconi's Freedom People Party plunge to far below that of Italy's other large party, the center-left.

But he is confident he can achieve victory.

"I'm running to win," Berlusconi told reporters outside the training facilities of his soccer team AC Milan.

No date has been set for elections, linked to the end of Parliament's term in late April. But Berlusconi's decision earlier in the week to yank the support of his party — Parliament's largest — for Monti's anti-crisis government increased the likelihood that Italy's president would dissolve the legislature and call early elections.

"It seems to me that March 10 has been indicated" as a possible date for early elections, "and that seems a date that's fine with me," Berlusconi said.

Monti was flying back from a conference in France for a meeting Saturday evening at the presidential palace to take the pulse of political tensions. President Giorgio Napolitano has made clear he wants Parliament to at least pass a vital budget law later this month and avoid a "precipitous" demise amid mounting political uncertainty.