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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 16:30 GMT
Silvio Berlusconi 'has eye job'
Mr Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi has been out of the limelight since 20 December
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a sleek and compact 67-year-old, has had cosmetic surgery, his doctor has told an Italian newspaper.

"He's had a little bit of cosmetic surgery around the eyes," La Stampa quoted Umberto Scarpagnini as saying.

"Don't ask me anything more because these are private matters."

Italy's richest man has not been seen in public since 20 December, spending most of his time at his luxury villa in the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

Satirists describe me as a dwarf, but I am actually 170 centimetres (five feet seven inches) tall
Silvio Berlusconi
La Stampa said the surgery was part of planned new look for Mr Berlusconi prior to European elections in June.

It added that he had undertaken a new diet and exercise regime.

Hair today

Mr Berlusconi is known to take a lot of care over his appearance.

In the past, his election posters have been known to show him with more hair than he has in reality.

Silvio Berlusconi with former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok
Mr Berlusconi is thought to be sensitive about his height
And earlier this year, the Panorama magazine - part of his media empire - touched up a shiny bald patch on the back of his head, covering it with hair.

The Italian Journalists' Order began disciplinary proceedings against the magazine, in response.

Italian satirists are also fond of drawing attention to Mr Berlusconi's small stature, in the belief that it embarrasses him.

They show him standing on stools, wearing platform shoes, or sitting on a chair he can wind up to make it taller.

High office

At one recent European summit he commented: "Satirists describe me as a dwarf, but I am actually 170 centimetres (five feet seven inches) tall... In my day that was considered quite tall."

He once also joked, when introducing the EU High Commissioner on foreign and security policy Javier Solana: "Actually he is not that high, he is just as tall as I am!"

Mr Berlusconi's prolonged absence from the limelight over Christmas and the New Year had begun to fuel rumours that he might be seriously ill.

According to some reports, the European election is not the only one he may end up running in this year.

Analysts have speculated that he might call snap elections before his chief rival, Romano Prodi, currently president of the European Commission is ready for them.

It is also possible that his fractious coalition government could fall apart.




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