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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Berlusconi to sue The Economist
Silvio Berlusconi and Forza Italia supporters
Berlusconi: Economist article an "insult to intelligence"
The media tycoon and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is set to sue the Economist for alleged defamation.

The Italian media holding company, Fininvest, which controls Mr Berlusconi's media interest, said it will take legal action over an editorial published in the influential London-based magazine on Friday.

Italian election posters featuring Francesco Rutelli
Rutelli's left-wingers are closing the gap on Mr Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi, who is heading the Forza Italia party in the current election campaign, claimed that the article contained "a series of old accusations" which were an "insult to truth and intelligence".

The Economist article detailed Mr Berlusconi's rise to become one of Italy's richest men and described the numerous legal battles in which he is involved.

It criticised him for failing to explain how he would separate his media interests as owner of the country's three leading commercial television channels from his political ambitions and claimed he was not suitable to lead the country.

"Fininvest holds that the response to such seriously defamatory behaviour must be left to the relevant legal bodies," Mr Berlusconi's company said in a statement.

But the Economist says it will stand by its story.

Polls narrowing

The article has caused a political storm in Italy and dominated the front pages of Italian newspapers on Friday.

There are just over two weeks until Italians vote in a general election, and the incumbent left-wing coalition is beginning to narrow Mr Berlusconi's lead in the polls.

A poll for the publishing group L'Espresso shows Mr Berlusconi's centre-right bloc on 36%, while the left headed by former Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli had risen to 32% - up from 27% a week earlier.

On these results, Mr Berlusconi would have to rely on the support of the far-right Northern League party to gain control of parliament.

However almost one third of voters are still undecided.

With research showing that many Italians make their decision in the last 10 days of the campaign, the battle with the Economist comes at a critical time for Mr Berlusconi.

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26 Sep 00 | Europe
Coalition pins hopes on Rutelli
09 Apr 01 | Europe
Berlusconi faces comeback battle
09 Mar 01 | Europe
May date for Italy election
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