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Italy s former premier and billionaire tycoon Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday he was happy to do his community service in a centre for disabled and elderly people and would do his best to be helpful.

The court has obliged me to dedicate part of my time to people in need. I m actually pleased because in my life I have always helped people, Berlusconi told journalists at a press conference in Rome to launch his centre-right party s EU election campaign.

The 77-year-old, who has been ordered to work once a week at the Fondazione Sacra Famiglia -- a Church-run centre for disabled and elderly people with 2,000 patients, smiled and joked as he said he would do it willingly and try to be helpful.

Berlusconi was ordered to do a year s community service as a punishment for tax fraud and will have to stay in the Lombardy region where the centre is located, although he will have special dispensation to travel to Rome between Tuesdays and Thursdays for political engagements.

Appearing in public for the first time since learning of his symbolic but humiliating punishment, Berlusconi said that as head of his Fininvest media empire he had dedicated every Saturday morning to visiting sick or hospitalised colleagues.

I was paid back with huge affection, he said, adding that he was the only businessman in Italy never to have suffered a single strike by employees.

The media magnate did not hide his bitterness at not being able to lead his Forza Italy (FI) party at the EU elections following his conviction, however, accusing the Italian judiciary of acting to favour the left wing.

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