A defiant Silvio Berlusconi has told a cheering crowd of thousands that he is innocent of tax fraud despite a ruling by Italy's high court confirming his guilt and four-year jail term.

Berlusconi told supporters on Sunday that he would not resist criticising the judges who made the ruling last week, and declared: "I will say to my so-called judges: I am innocent."

Berlusconi said he continues to support the coalition government of Enrico Letta. He said "we have said loud and clear that the government needs to continue" in order to approve economic measures to help Italy out of recession.

Berlusconi said he would continue to support the governing coalition [EPA]

Thousands of supporters bussed in from throughout Italy waved printed signs and cheered Berlusconi.

The demonstration of support was organised by the controversial tycoon's People of Freedom (PDL) party, with the slogan "Sunday in the street for democracy and freedom".

A visibly moved Berlusconi told supporters, "your closeness and your warmth comfort me after all the pain and suffering of the past few days".

Berlusconi said the last few days were "the most anguished and painful of my life".

Italy's top court on Thursday handed Berlusconi his first definitive conviction in a 20-year political career dogged by legal woes and sex scandals.

He is also barred from running in elections for six years, and the police on Friday withdrew his passport to prevent him from leaving the country.

Source: Agencies