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ROME — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s political and sexual exploits make headlines around the world, and not just in the tabloid press. These stories would be no more than funny — which they are certainly are — if they were not so damaging to Italy and revelatory of the country’s immobile politics.

For, despite the rampant scandals, “national Silvio” (“Il Silvio Nazionale”) remains by far Italy’s most popular and successful politician (though his approval ratings have now dipped below the 50 percent mark in opinion polls for the first time since his second return to the premiership in 2008).

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