( AP ) - Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced the creation of a new political party Sunday, saying the time felt right because his supporters had gathered so many signatures calling for the ouster of Italy's current leader.
The news came as a surprise: Berlusconi announced it hastily as he was mobbed by supporters in a Milan piazza, where his existing Forza Italia party was collecting signatures calling for early elections. The media mogul said his supporters had gathered 7 million signatures calling for Premier Romano Prodi's ouster.
Berlusconi, who narrowly lost to Prodi in 2006 elections, said the new Freedom People party would ensure democracy, development and freedom in Italy. It will incorporate Forza Italia, Italy's largest political party.
"Now it's important to give life to this new creature, which will be the protagonist of freedom and democracy for decades," he told journalists in the piazza in a hastily called news conference.
Asked whether his center-right allies - who have been publicly criticizing him recently - were on board with the plan, Berlusconi responded: "I hope all of them come on board, no one excluded."
Details of the new party were expected to be announced Monday.
Berlusconi has for years said he wanted to create a single, center-right party to replace Forza Italia that would eventually unite various small center-right parties.
The center-left beat him to the punch, creating the Democratic Party earlier this year by uniting the two largest center-left blocs. Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni heads that party.
Berlusconi has been on the defensive in recent days after his allies failed to sink Prodi's 2008 budget in parliament. Berlusconi had initially predicted its failure, but the budget bill narrowly succeeded last week.
Gianfranco Fini, leader of the right-wing National Alliance, publicly criticized Berlusconi's performance, saying a change of course was necessary in the opposition. Criticism also came from Pier Ferdinando Casini, the leader of Christian Democrats, another key Berlusconi ally.