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Italy prepares to bid farewell to Berlusconi with grand funeral

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MILAN (Reuters) – Italy was preparing on Tuesday to bid farewell to former premier Silvio Berlusconi, a scandal-prone billionaire who dominated the country’s politics, business and soccer world for at least three decades.

Berlusconi aged 86, three days after his readmission to the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, and two months after it was revealed he had long been suffering from leukaemia.

“Italy without Berlusconi,” the country’s largest circulation newspaper, Corriere della Sera, wrote on its front page, dedicating more than 30 pages of coverage to the event.

No official cause of death was given, but Corriere, which broke the news of Berlusconi’s passing, said he had died from leukaemia, with a sudden deterioration in his condition overnight into Monday.

As well as being Italy’s prime minister four times, Berlusconi owned a business empire including the MFE media group, and soccer clubs AC Milan from 1986-2017 and AC Monza from 2018.

Corriere said Berlusconi had been well enough to watch on television Saturday’s Champions League soccer final between Inter Milan and Manchester City. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said in a TV interview on Monday that she had spoken “at length” with him that day.

Family and close friends were paying their respects at a private wake in his villa ahead of a Wednesday state funeral at Milan’s cathedral, likely to attract tens of thousands of people.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who cut short a visit to Washington, was among those expected to pay his respects. Tajani is the deputy leader of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, a party that is now at risk of imploding.

“I wish Forza Italia can have a future, but frankly I don’t see one,” former minister and party member Giuliano Urbani told La Repubblica daily, stating that most of its voters had already switched allegiance to Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party.

Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella were among those set to attend the funeral which will take place on a national day of mourning, with flags flying at half-mast from all public buildings.

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; editing by Ed Osmond)

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