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2nd Prd 17:51

Berlusconi in coalition for election

MILAN — Silvio Berlusconi, former premier, announced a deal Monday with the Northern League — his fractious coalition partner in three governments — to jointly run in Italy’s election next month, a move that could give momentum to the center-right and extend the Berlusconi era.

While leaving open the question of whether he will run himself, Berlusconi underlined his ambitions for the deal reached overnight at his villa near Milan by saying: ‘‘Habemus Papum,’’ — the Latin phrase for ‘‘we have a pope.’’

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A return to power for the 76-year-old Berlusconi, a man convicted just months ago of tax fraud and probably facing two criminal verdicts in the coming weeks, may seem ­incredible to observers abroad.

Opinion polls at home, however, have seen Berlusconi’s conservative party gaining since he pulled its support for Premier Mario Monti’s ­technical government last month.

The Feb. 24-25 national election is shaping up into a race with Monti in the center, Berlusconi to the right, and Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani on the left, along with a movement founded by comic-cum-political agitator Beppe Grillo.

The conservative coalition has been polling second to Bersani’s forces.

‘‘If Berlusconi were to win, then he would try to grab the premiership,’’ said James Walston, a political science professor at the American University in Rome. ‘‘I think it is very, very unlikely he is going to win. He is not trying to win, he is trying to spoil.’’

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