Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a group of foreign journalists this week that he does not plan to seek reelection after his term ends in 2013, Italian and foreign news reports said Thursday.
The 74-year-old Italian leader's comments during an off-the-record gathering Tuesday night were leaked to the ANSA news agency. Subsequent television and print reports quoted Berlusconi as saying he planned to continue serving as a member of his People of Freedom party.
"If I will still be needed as a father figure, I am available … but I don't want an operational role," he said.
Without specifically naming a possible successor, he indicated that Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, 40, was the most suitable candidate. He also said he had no intention of running for president, according to the BBC and the London Times, whose correspondents attended the dinner.
Berlusconi's colleagues downplayed the news. Paolo Bonaiuti, his spokesman, said the statements reflected the prime minister's current "state of mind," ANSA reported.
"They have been given an emphasis which makes them seem certain," Bonaiuti said. "It's as well to skirt around these statements, given during a dinner, a freely spoken conversation, but they're not to be taken as established fact, nothing is certain."
Speaking of his close relationship with Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, Berlusconi reportedly revealed that he had considered resigning when he felt forced to agree to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led air campaign against government forces in Libya.
"With all the personal difficulties that this decision represented for me, I thought it my duty to resign," he said. "But everybody asked me not to and so I stayed in my place."
Billionaire media tycoon Berlusconi, who is undergoing several trials on charges of corruption, fraud and having sexual relations with a prostitute who was a minor, complained during the dinner of his "war" with the Italian judiciary, which he accused of having a leftist political bias. He said he had plans to reform the judicial system before leaving office.
A legislative measure designed to limit the judiciary was narrowly passed by the lower house of the Italian parliament Wednesday night. In a country where legal proceedings can last for years, the legislation would reduce the length of time within which trials must be completed for defendants with no previous convictions. One clause would have the effect of cutting short an ongoing trial on charges that Berlusconi paid bribes to a British lawyer who represents him, David Mills, as part of a media deal.
The legislation, which critics said amounts to a form of amnesty for Berlusconi, still must pass the Senate.
On Thursday, President Giorgio Napolitano said he wanted to study the possible effects of the measure before it goes to the Senate, ANSA reported.