Berlusconi out of hospital


ROME -- Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's controversial former prime minister and media magnate, was given a clean bill of health and released from the hospital Wednesday, assuring that he will appear in court in the coming days to answer charges of corruption.

Berlusconi was admitted to the hospital Sunday after he fainted during a political rally. He was originally expected to stay only one night, but his stay was extended through Wednesday when doctors said they wanted to monitor an irregular heartbeat.

The extension delayed the long-awaited start to the corruption trial for Berlusconi and 13 others. The trial is now scheduled to start Friday.

Berlusconi said he felt "great" upon leaving the hospital and vowed to lead another political rally scheduled for Saturday to criticize the policies of Italian Premier Romano Prodi, who narrowly defeated Berlusconi in elections held in April. Berlusconi did not mention his court date.

Prodi -- along with Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President George W. Bush -- were reportedly among the world leaders to call Berlusconi in the hospital to wish him well.

Berlusconi is Italy's richest citizen and the continent's most powerful media tycoon, with influence in politics (the party he heads is the second largest in Italy's parliament) and sports (he owns the renowned AC Milan soccer club). But his influence in the media sector is strongest. His company Mediaset owns three of Italy's seven national television networks, and his other holdings include a major publisher, a leading daily newspaper, the country's leading news magazine, a large advertising company and several Internet-related ventures.

Berlusconi has been dogged by legal problems since he first entered politics in the early 1990s, but he has yet to be convicted of anything and has not even appeared in court to answer charges. That could change as soon as Friday, when the trial gets underway.