Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held a lengthy end-of-year press conference in Rome and has confirmed that Italy would hold its general elections on April 9. He defended Italy's strategy in Iraq and measures at home to combat terrorism.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed to journalists gathered for his end-of-year press conference that Italy would be holding general elections on April 9. He added that parliament would be dissolved on January 29.

During the over two-hour meeting with the press, Mr. Berlusconi acknowledged that over 25 percent of Italians still do not know who they will vote for. But he said he was confident that his electoral program would convince those who are still undecided.

After passionately defending his government's record since his election in 2001, 69-year-old Mr. Berlusconi excluded the possibility of losing the elections and said he would continue to lead the country.

Mr. Berlusconi said his upcoming electoral campaign gatherings were considered a target for possible acts of terrorism. He said Italy has been doing everything in its power to avoid such acts with special measures.

Over 13,000 sensitive targets in the country continue to be closely monitored.

"We have very strong preventive measures and are cooperating with intelligence services of allied countries in place," he said. "Until now, this prevention has been effective."

This activity, the prime minister said, has allowed the arrest of more than 200 alleged international terrorists, who have in many cases either been kept in prison in Italy or have been expelled.

But this, he said, must be further intensified if we are to stave off such acts at the time of the elections as occurred in Spain.

Mr. Berlusconi said fundamentalism has produced an attack on our civilization, on our values, an attack which is under way and whose cure in time can only be that of transforming dictatorial regimes into democracies.

The Italian prime minister then defended his government's strategy in Iraq saying everyone should be proud of having contributed to the path toward democracy of a country which, for over 30 years was subjected to a bloody dictatorship.

"We intervened with what was exclusively a mission of peace," he said. Adding this decision was taken after a United Nations resolution urged countries to send forces to assist in returning normality and to guarantee public order in Iraq.

Mr. Berlusconi added that the mission of Italian soldiers was carried out effectively and is to be considered a success. He said the aim was now to progressively reduce Italian troops in the country.