2001-2004: The phoenix rises
Berlusconi returned as prime minister after his center-right coalition won elections -- but he faced a string of corruption cases involving embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting, and attempting to bribe judges. His troubles sparked media criticism, angry demonstrations, and even calls from former Italian president Francesco Cossiga for Berlusconi to resign if convicted. Yet somehow, Berlusconi managed to dodge all these legal bullets through a mixture of acquittals, appeals, statute of limitations lapses, and government tweaks to the law. He ultimately presided over the longest-serving Italian government since World War II.
This is when Berlusconi's mystique as a phoenix-like politician began to take shape. The New York Times marveled in 2002 that Berlusconi "seems practically impervious to political damage." But the calls for his resignation continued. In 2004, when Italy's economy minister resigned, an opposition leader proclaimed the "end of the Berlusconi era." Berlusconi would eventually have to face a political defeat, but his tenure was far from over.
Above, leftist demonstrators attend an anti-Berlusconi rally in Rome in March 2002.
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