Image: Silvio Berlusconi, Maria Vittoria Brambilla
Riccardo De Luca  /  AP
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Tourism Minister Maria Vittoria Brambilla attend a People of Freedom party meeting in Rome, Saturday, April 16. Berlusconi is vowing not to quit, as long as he's needed.
updated 4/16/2011 4:40:57 PM ET 2011-04-16T20:40:57

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday vowed not to quit, promising to hang in there as long as he's needed. And that could be a long time. He boasted playfully he'll live to 120.

Only a few days earlier, at a dinner for foreign correspondents, Berlusconi seemed to be pre-announcing his eventual exit from power, telling the reporters that he has designated his justice minister as political heir, although he held out a role for himself as a kind of father-figure for his conservative Freedom People party.

The minister, Angelino Alfano, has designed an overhaul of Italy's justice system that the 74-year-old Berlusconi's critics contend is custom-made to rescue the premier from his legal woes, although the government says the entire nation will benefit from a fairer, swifter justice system.

Among the trials Berlusconi is involved is one in Milan in which he is charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

'I'm still a mortal,' he jokes
Berlusconi at the rally Saturday kept up his railing against Milan magistrates he described as "subversives" who sympathize with the left and are prosecuting him in hopes of ousting him from power.

But "I'm not giving up. I'll be around as long as necessary," Berlusconi said, who has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence in all cases.

Berlusconi seemed to be thinking long-range. "I'll make it to 120 years, even though I'm still a mortal," Berlusconi joked.

Berlusconi had a pacemaker installed in 2006 after he collapsed during an appearance and has said he has beaten prostate cancer. He recently had jaw surgery to repair injuries sustained when a statuette was hurled at him during a 2009 rally.

Berlusconi, three times premier, has also proven himself a political survivor since he entered politics two decades ago. He has managed to hold on to a majority in Parliament despite the defection of a major center-right ally. A string of criminal probes against him have resulted in acquittal or have come to an end when statute of limitations ran out.

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