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Italy's former PM Silvio Berlusconi starts community service at senior center

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By Livia Borghese

ROME (CNN) -- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi began a year of community service for his conviction on tax fraud charges on Friday when he showed up at a senior center near his hometown, Milan.

The 77-year old billionaire tycoon must visit the center for the elderly at least once a week for a minimum four hours. The community service order is in lieu of house arrest.

The former premier is expected to work with 20 residents with Alzheimer's disease in the home, run by the Sacred Family Foundation, Fondazione Sacra Famiglia, in Cesano Boscone outside Milan.

Upon Berlusconi's arrival at the center, a member of a health care workers' trade union, Pippo Fiorito, staged a small protest against his presence.

"His place is in a jail, not here," Fiorito said.

Berlusconi gave no comment as he entered the building. His security guards were left outside.

The center's director has barred all staff and residents from taking or distributing photos or video of Berlusconi inside the building, in accordance with its privacy rules.

Berlusconi, who served on and off as prime minister between 1994 and 2011, has dominated the lively Italian political scene for the past two decades.

He was handed a four-year sentence last August -- commuted to a year -- for tax fraud at Mediaset, the large commercial broadcaster that Berlusconi founded. He has also been barred from holding public office for two years and was expelled from the Italian Senate in the fall.

Last month, a Milan court ruled that Berlusconi could be assigned to social work at the elderly center as an alternative to house arrest. He also faces restrictions on his movements within Italy.

Berlusconi continues to protest his innocence and says he has been persecuted by leftist magistrates.
   
 CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.
   
 The-CNN-Wire
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