Silvio Berlusconi: timeline of his political career
PRIME Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is set to resign by the end of the month after a plunge in support amid a debt crisis, has been a larger-than-life presence in Italian politics since the early 1990s.
Here are some of the key dates that have marked his political life:
March 1994: Billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi bursts onto the political scene, winning elections with his Forza Italia ("Go Italy") party after a series of corruption scandals badly damage Italy's political elites.
December 1994: Northern League party leader Umberto Bossi – one of Berlusconi's few close allies at the end – pulls out of the coalition following rows with the prime minister and forces Berlusconi to resign.
May 2001: Berlusconi bounces back with an election win after a US-style campaign in which he signs a "Contract with Italians" live on television. He goes on to serve the longest stint as premier in post-war Italian history.
July 2003: Berlusconi causes international shock waves after comments in the European Parliament in which he mockingly invites a German member of parliament who criticised him to play a concentration camp guard in a new Italian film.
April 2006: Berlusconi is narrowly defeated by a centre-left coalition called "The Union" that the prime minister nicknames "The Soviet Union". Former European Commission President Romano Prodi becomes Italy's new prime minister.
January 2007: Berlusconi's wife demands a public apology after he flirts with one of his deputies, telling her: "I'd go anywhere with you, even to a desert island. If I weren't already married, I would marry you straight away."
April 2008: Berlusconi wins his third election victory after the sudden collapse of Prodi's government with his new People of Freedom party amid stagnation in the Italian economy and a garbage crisis in Naples.
May 2009: Berlusconi's wife says she can no longer be with a man she calls "a dragon" who "cavorts with minors" after scandalous allegations on the prime minister's involvement with a young Neapolitan model who calls him "Daddy".
November 2010: Speaker of parliament Gianfranco Fini breaks up his long-term alliance with Berlusconi after a series of angry disputes, pulling his four ministers out of the government and triggering a December 14 confidence vote.
December, 2010: Berlusconi scrapes through a crucial confidence vote in the lower house of parliament that could have brought down his government, but opponents say he will still fall because of his tiny three-seat majority.
April, 2011: A trial opens in Milan against Berlusconi – his third ongoing trial – on charges of paying for sex with a then 17-year-old girl and then abusing the powers of his office in order to hide the alleged crime.
June, 2011: Berlusconi suffers a trouncing in referendums that wipe out his plans to resume nuclear power in Italy, cancel proposed privatisation of water utilities and dismiss a law designed to keep him out of court.
August, 2011: A run on stocks and a spike in borrowing rates force Berlusconi to speed up and expand austerity measures to reach a balanced budget by 2013 as the European Central Bank (ECB) intervenes to prop up bond markets.
September, 2011: Standard and Poor's becomes the first of the big three ratings agencies to downgrade Italian debt, even after parliament passes Italy's second austerity package in three months to slash costs.
November, 2011: Three deputies quit Berlusconi's ruling People of Freedom (PDL) party and around 20 others voice dissent in an unprecedented act of defiance, leaving the coalition without a working majority in parliament.
Italian President later confirms Berlusconi will resign once austerity budget is passed through parliament later in the month.