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Women lead widespread protests in Italy, urge scandal-plagued Berlusconi to resign

Rome’s Piazza del Popolo was packed yesterday with protesters who decried Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged behavior toward women. Rome’s Piazza del Popolo was packed yesterday with protesters who decried Silvio Berlusconi’s alleged behavior toward women. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)
By Associated Press
February 14, 2011

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ROME — More than 100,000 Italian women and their supporters turned out across the country to protest against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying his dalliances with young women humiliate the sex as a whole and degrade female dignity.

Women gathered to press Berlusconi to resign in more than 200 cities and towns, from the tiny island of La Maddalena in Sardinia, to large cities such as Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin, and Venice. Anti-Berlusconi demonstrations also were planned in other European cities, including Athens, Brussels, London, Paris, and Tokyo.

Backers of the 74-year-old Berlusconi, who is under investigation for allegedly paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl, dismissed the protests as strictly political. The teenager, a Moroccan night club dancer, has said Berlusconi lavished cash and jewelry on her. Both deny that they had sex.

Prostitution isn’t a crime in Italy, but paying a minor for sex is. Prosecutors are requesting to put Berlusconi quickly on trial.

This has been the most sensational investigation in more than a decade of criminal cases against Berlusconi, mainly for dealings in his billion-dollar empire of TV, film, advertising, and other business interests.

The prime minister, who willingly acknowledges his fondness for pretty young women and is being divorced by his wife for his purported dalliances, claims he is being victimized by left-wing prosecutors who want to topple him from power.

In L’Aquila, a mountain town where Berlusconi has boasted about his reconstruction efforts after an earthquake in 2009, women said they were still waiting for government-promised funds for a center for abused women.

In the main protest, Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, a central square which can hold about 100,000 people, was packed with mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and many husbands and boyfriends as music blasted across the space, including Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect.’’

Caricatures of some of the women promoted by Berlusconi, including former showgirls who are now ministers in his government or other officials from his conservative People of Freedom Party, decorated the walls surrounding the square. Berlusconi’s penchant for choosing starlets for political posts has been denounced by his estranged wife, Veronica Lario, a former actress.

Berlusconi issued no public comment on yesterday’s protests.

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