Berlusconi tells rally he is ready for fresh elections

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi told tens of thousands of supporters in Rome on Saturday that he was ready for fresh elections if attempts to form a new government fall through.

"I see you're all ready for a new election campaign and this time we'll win big!" Berlusconi told the crowd, adding: "I'm ready too".

Berlusconi's centre-right coalition came in a very close second in elections last month in which leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani's coalition won the most votes but failed to get an overall parliamentary majority.

Berlusconi, a scandal-tainted three time prime minister embroiled in a series of court cases, said the mandate given to Bersani on Friday to try and form a government was a "precarious" one.

"If Bersani continues this absurd attempt at a minority government, he should know that our opposition will be tough," he said.

"If they fail, then we should not waste the country's time and we should return to vote immediately," he said.

Analysts say any new government would be unstable because the vote was so inconclusive and fresh elections will have to be called within a few months at the earliest or in up to two years at the latest.

Saturday's rally was organised by Berlusconi's People of Freedom party to protest against the court cases involving the 76-year-old billionaire tycoon, who supporters say is being unfairly victimised by prosecutors.

Berlusconi over the past year has been convicted of tax fraud and breaking state secrecy laws and he is also on trial for having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office while he was prime minister.

Supporters at the demonstration in Piazza del Popolo in central Rome held up signs saying "Hands Off Silvio", chanting "Silvio! Silvio!" and waving party flags.