* Berlusconi begins 1-year community service for tax fraud
* Will assist Alzheimer's patients once a week
* Can still campaign for votes, says wields power over govt
(Adds details, background)
By Silvia Aloisi and Ilaria Polleschi
CESANO BOSCONE, Italy, May 9 Silvio Berlusconi
smiled and waved as he left an old people's home on Friday after
his first stint of community service, a symbolic punishment for
tax fraud that still allows him to wield huge influence over
The four-time prime minister, himself 77 years old, had
initially received a four-year jail sentence, but that was
commuted to one year's community service and he will spend at
least four hours a week at a centre for Alzheimer's patients in
a small town on the edge of Milan.
In a striking fall from grace, the media tycoon arrived in
the morning in a sedan with darkened windows, wearing his
trademark dark suit.
Ignoring around 200 Italian and foreign journalists,
Berlusconi left bodyguards and aides outside as he entered the
Sacred Family institute, a sprawling structure caring for the
elderly and mentally ill.
As he left after four hours, he waived and smiled briefly at
the media without making a comment, in line with rules that
prevent him from speaking to reporters while on the premises.
A lone trade union protester in a clown's hat shouted that
Berlusconi should go to prison in Milan's nearby San Vittore
jail before being escorted away by security.
Following his definitive tax fraud conviction last year in a
case revolving around his Mediaset broadcaster,
Berlusconi was stripped of his seat in the Italian Senate and
barred from holding public office for two years.
But he remains the most influential politician on Italy's
centre right, as leader of the Forza Italia party he created,
and he played a key role in negotiations with Prime Minister
Matteo Renzi this year on reforming the electoral law.
The community service and travel restrictions that limit his
movements to the Lombardy region around Milan and Rome still
allow him to campaign for European Parliament elections this
Opinion polls suggest Forza Italia could command just short
of 20 percent of the vote, making it Italy's third largest party
after the centre-left Democratic Party led by Renzi and the
anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Adding to Berlusconi's and Forza Italia's image problems,
his former interior and industry minister Claudio Scajola was
arrested on Thursday on suspicion of helping a former party
colleague convicted of mafia association to flee justice.
Yet shortly after finishing his first day at the home in
Cesano Boscone, Berlusconi showed he still intends to wield
"We are the ones who could blackmail Renzi by not giving him
our votes for the reforms that he wants to push through," he
told a small television network.
At Cesano Boscone, reactions to his arrival were muted.
"I think all this media attention is excessive, given that
he's not coming here because he wants to help those suffering
from Alzheimer's disease, he's here because he was forced to
come," said a man who works as a volunteer at the centre and
only gave his name as Mario.
Sabatina Carlone, a Berlusconi supporter who came with her
husband and 18-month-old nephew in a show of support, said: "We
came because we are in love with him as a leader. This is not
justice, it's a mockery. The president (of Italy, Giorgio
Napolitano) should have pardoned him."
Berlusconi has promised "surprises" during his service and
told a radio station on Thursday he had been studying the latest
treatments for Alzheimer's disease to help patients "do more".
The director of the centre, Paolo Pigni, said last month
Berlusconi would at first go through a period of observation of
the needs of Alzheimer's patients before assisting them more
actively, helping them eat or taking them for a stroll.
"He won't stay in an office. He won't do something enjoyable
or relaxing, he will do activities with suffering people who are
a challenge for all those having contact with these patients."
(Additional reporting by Roberto Rossi; Writing by Silvia
Aloisi; Editing by Gavin Jones and Robin Pomeroy)