He also contended that the political left was trying to exploit his comment about Mussolini for election campaign fodder.
Advocating aggressive nationalism, Mussolini used brutish force and populist appeal evoking ancient Rome's glories to achieve and keep his dictatorial grip on power, starting in the early '20s and lasting well into World War II. His Fascist "blackshirt" loyalists cracked down on dissidents, through beatings and jailings.
He encouraged big families to propagate the Italian population, established a sprawling state economy and erected monumental buildings and statues to evoke ancient Rome. Mussolini sought to impose order on a generally individualistic-minded people, and Italians sometimes note trains ran on time during Fascism.
With dreams of an empire, he sent Italian troops on missions to attack or occupy foreign lands, including Ethiopia and Albania. Eventually, Italian military failures in Africa and in Greece fostered rebellion among Fascist officials, and in 1943 he was placed under arrest by orders of the Italian king. His end came at the vengeful hands of partisan fighters, who shot him and his mistress, and left their bodies to hang in a Milan square in April 1945.
Berlusconi's former government allies have included political heirs to neo-fascist movements admiring Mussolini.
In 2010, he told world leaders at a Paris conference that he had been reading Mussolini's journals, and years earlier Berlusconi had claimed that Mussolini "never killed anyone."
Berlusconi is running in Feb. 24-25 Parliamentary elections and has repeatedly changed his mind on whether he is seeking a fourth term as premier. Monti is also running, but polls put him far behind front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani, a center-left leader who supported Monti's austerity measures to save Italy from the Eurozone debt crisis.
Polls show about one-third of eligible voters are undecided.
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