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Berlusconi, Northern League tie up

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Italy’s playboy former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, announced a deal Monday with the rightwing Northern League ahead of next month’s national elections, potentially opening up a tighter contest in a race being closely watched by financial markets.

“We have a pope,” the 76-year-old billionaire — who also recently announced a pending marriage to his 27-year-old girlfriend, Francesca Pascale, a former backup dancer for a singer — declared with trademark fanfare after tough rounds of backroom political talks yielded a deal early Monday.

The agreement would see Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party support the Northern League’s Roberto Maroni in his bid for governor of the wealthy region of Lombardy.

In exchange, the Northern League, which broke with Berlusconi after he was forced from office at the height of Italy’s debt crisis in 2011, would back the People of Freedom party in national elections on Feb. 24 and 25.

Berlusconi left open the possibility of settling for the role of economy minister instead of prime minister, suggesting that if his coalition won, the top job could go to his anointed successor, Angelino Alfano.

However, in the classic style of the man known as “Il Cavaliere” (Italian for “the knight”), he left himself with substantial wiggle room, saying a final decision would be made only after the elections.