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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi leaves the stage flanked by his girlfriend Francesca Pascale at the end of a rally to protest his tax fraud conviction, outside his palace in central Rome, Italy August 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File picture

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MILAN (Reuters) - Italian surgeons began a four-hour heart operation on former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday to replace a defective aortic valve, a hospital statement said.

The surgery started at 8 a.m. local time (0600 GMT), the statement added.

The 79-year-old centre-right leader and media mogul was admitted to hospital last week suffering from what his doctors called a cardiac deficiency.

In a post on Facebook, Berlusconi wrote on Monday: "Naturally I am worried, but I have been very much consoled by the outpour of affection and support that have come from many parts, including from so-called political enemies."

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

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