January 31, 2018 / 6:47 PM / a year ago

Italy's Berlusconi skips TV election show, raising health concerns

ROME, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi called off an appearance on a top television chat show on Wednesday, his second such cancellation this week, raising concerns about his health ahead of national elections.

Berlusconi, 81, heads an alliance of centre-right and far-right parties which is leading in the polls in the run up to the March 4 parliamentary vote.

He has appeared on numerous television and radio shows since last December to campaign for his Forza Italia party (Go Italy!) but he pulled out of an interview with state television RAI on Sunday and scrapped another scheduled show on Wednesday.

La Repubblica newspaper said he was tired and suffering from high blood pressure attacks. Berlusconi sought to minimise the no-show, calling Italy’s national news agency ANSA to tell them that he was “very well”.

A senior Forza Italia politician, Renato Brunetta, told Reuters that he had spoken to Berlusconi during the day and that the billionaire media mogul was fine.

Berlusconi had open heart surgery in 2016 and he has had regular hospital check-ups and lengthy stays in health spas over the past 18 months. His last public appearance was on Jan. 22, when he went to meet EU officials in Brussels, while his last television interview was on Jan. 16.

Opinion polls suggest the centre-right bloc, which includes Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League and Brothers of Italy party, will win the March 4 vote, but will fall short of an absolute majority.

Berlusconi cannot run for public office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction, but he has presented himself as a moderating force who will keep his allies in check should they win power at the forthcoming election. (Writing by Crispian Balmer; Additional reporting by Gavin Jones, Editing by William Maclean)

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