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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 November 2006, 21:05 GMT
Berlusconi collapses during rally
Silvio Berlusconi is helped by aides as he collapses

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been diagnosed with a minor heart complaint after being taken ill during a speech in northern Italy.

Mr Berlusconi, 70, slumped at the podium at a rally in Tuscany and collapsed into the arms of his aides.

He is spending the night under observation in a Milan hospital but has said he is doing fine.

Twice prime minister, Mr Berlusconi has been leader of the opposition since losing power in elections in April.

Mr Berlusconi - Italy's richest man - went on trial last week for alleged fraud and money laundering and could face up to 12 years in jail if convicted. He denies all charges against him.

The trial is due to resume in Milan on Monday.

'Irregular heartbeat'

Mr Berlusconi had been speaking for about 40 minutes in the spa resort of Montecatini Terme when he suddenly slumped at the podium.

Several members of Mr Berlusconi's entourage rushed to his aid but he was unable to stand up and had to be carried out of the room.

His doctor said he was examined by a cardiologist before leaving the venue half an hour later.

Shortly after he collapsed, former lower house speaker Irene Pivetti told the audience that Mr Berlusconi was recovering.

"He felt unwell due to the tension, he is very sorry and wants to continue but the doctor has told him not to," Ms Pivetti said.

Speaking outside his villa later on Sunday, Mr Berlusconi told reporters he would spend the night in a Milan hospital.

"I collapsed from exhaustion, from the heat, from hard work, from antibiotics I am taking for a knee operation," he said.

An electrocardiogram had revealed "something like an irregular heartbeat", he added, so doctors wanted to keep him under observation.

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