Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi Image Credit: AP

Rome: Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi vowed on Friday to survive another stint in hospital, as the 86-year-old media mogul showed signs of improvement following treatment for leukaemia and a lung infection.

The billionaire, a larger-than-life figure who has dominated Italian public life for decades, was admitted Wednesday to the intensive care cardiac unit at Milan's San Raffaele Hospital.

On Friday, the Berlusconi-owned newspaper, Il Giornale, ran a front-page photo of a younger, beaming "Cavaliere" from a past election campaign, with the headline, "I won't give in".

"It's tough, but I'll make it this time too," Berlusconi told the newspaper from his hospital bed.

Outside the hospital where a few supporters of Berlusconi have gathered to show their support, fans from Monza, the football club he owns, unravelled a banner reading "Forza Silvio! Monza is with you".

"I'm quite worried but at the same time optimistic because I am sure he will survive, as he always did, all the other times," said Marco Macri, 31, a public school employee.

"He'll survive this time too because he's strong, he's a lion."

Responding to treatment

The declining health of Berlusconi, a three-time prime minister, has meant he has been in and out of the hospital in recent years. His latest admission to San Raffaele Hospital came just a week after being discharged after a four-day stay.

But on Friday, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, the No. 2 in Berlusconi's right-wing party Forza Italia, told Rai 3 television that the patient "had rested well and reacted well to his treatment".

As family members and close friends visited the hospital Thursday, doctors revealed that Berlusconi was being treated for a lung infection and was suffering from chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia (CMML), a rare type of blood cancer affecting mainly older adults.

The cancer was in a "persistent chronic phase" but not "acute", they said. Acute leukaemia is more severe and can worsen more quickly.

Called "the immortal" for his longevity in politics, the self-made billionaire elicits either fervid admiration or disdain from Italians, his many successes having gone hand-in-hand with decades-long legal battles.

In September, he was reelected to the Senate, nine years after being expelled following his conviction for tax fraud.

And last month, Berlusconi won a victory in one of the many trials linked to his notorious "bunga bunga" parties, when a court acquitting him of charges that he bribed witnesses to lie about the sex parties.

But the octogenarian is only seen in public on rare occasions, and appears physically diminished.

In September 2020, Berlusconi was in hospital for 11 days for Covid-related pneumonia, complications from which caused a series of hospital stays during 2021.

The one-time cruise ship crooner had open-heart surgery in 2016 and an operation on his intestine three years later.

Forza Italia is a junior member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing coalition government.