Berlusconi offers ‘house’ for kingdom

ROME (Reuters) — Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi set his sights on the prime minister’s job after storming to victory in Italy’s elections, and said he would be ready to sell off his business empire to silence his critics.

“I’ve heard that some people have said that if I want to be prime minister, I’ll have to sell my companies,” Berlusconi told RAI state television in an interview Tuesday night.

“Let them come forward. If someone wants to buy them, I’ve got nothing against it. That’s a ready answer, but it could become a reality by and by,” he said when asked about a possible conflictof interests.

The self-made millionaire, owner of Europe’s largest private media empire, romped to a landslide victory alongside neo-fascists and northern federalists in Italy’s most dramatic general elections in nearly 50 years.

Their right-wing Freedom Alliance won an absolute majority of 366 seats in the 630-member Chamber of Deputies and a relative majority of 155 in the Senate.

But strains have already emerged over the key issue of who should be prime minister.

Webs aided election

Berlusconi made clear his offer to sell his businesses also applied to his three national television networks, which his defeated rivals on the left accuse him of using shamelessly in the campaign that catapulted him to triumph in just two months.

“The price has to be right, a price that reflects the value of something built with blood, sweat and tears,” he said.

Leaves debt for Parliament

Berlusconi, whose Fininvest empire has debts of $ 2.2 billion, resigned from his business positions when he burst into politics on an anti-left crusade at the head of his free-market Forza Italia party.

But Berlusconi’s continued ownership of a string of interests from television and advertising to publishing and department stores has prompted allies as well as enemies to doubt that he could run a government in Italy’s interests alone.

“Berlusconi himself can see how true this is and how it could damage his mandate,” said Umberto Bossi, leader of the rightist Northern League.

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