In Brief

Silvio Berlusconi on course to be election ‘kingmaker’

Former Italian PM is barred from running for office but could still hold the balance of power after next month’s election

Silvio Berlusconi has made a dramatic return to frontline Italian politics, promising to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants should his right-wing coalition govern after elections on 4 March.

The three-time former prime minister has been barred from running for office since he was convicted of tax fraud in 2011, but could still end up pulling the strings of power should his coalition gain enough of a majority to govern.

With his supporters growing increasingly confident, the 81-year-old sparked a nationwide debate by claiming immigration was a “social bomb ready to explode in Italy”.

The warning came after a lone gunman wounded six black migrants in apparent retaliation for the brutal murder and dismemberment of an Italian teenager by a Nigerian immigrant.

The incidents and Berlusconi’s response have “brought issues of race and violence centre-stage in the country’s election campaign”, says The Daily Telegraph.

Italy has become the favoured entry point for refugees and migrants making the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean from Africa. About 500,000 unauthorised migrants who have had their asylum applications turned down are believed to have stayed anyway.

This has led to the widespread accusation that Italy is being forced to foot the bill, both socially and financially, for the migrant crisis by the rest of the EU, the Daily Express reports. Tapping into populist sentiment, Berlusconi took a swipe at Brussels saying: “Today, Italy counts for nothing in Brussels and the world. We will make it count again.”

Speaking to Italian TV station TG5, he suggested the EU should seek to create a “Marshall Plan for Africa” to reduce migrant arrivals.

Support for his harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and distrust of the ruling centre-left government could combine to hand Berlusconi and his allies victory next month.

While polls continue to show a tight race, Bloomberg says the so-called “shy-factor” in the polling process, which underestimates voting intentions for right-wing parties, and a new electoral law that favours coalitions, “may give Berlusconi’s bloc enough seats to form a government”.

As Berlusconi’s alliance becomes increasingly hopeful of victory, 200 far-Right activists planted trees to reverse damage done to a conifer plantation that spells out the letters DUX – Latin for “Duce”, a tribute to Mussolini – on a mountainside north of Rome.

“Intended as a living paean to Mussolini, it is regarded fondly by some Italians but seen as a shameful reminder of the country’s Fascist past by others,” says the Telegraph.

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