Berlusconi unapologetic as death-camp furore escalates

Darker image of ex-premier appears in Bari 'bunga bunga' case

(ANSA) - Rome, April 28 - Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi on Monday said his claim that Germans still deny the existence of Nazi concentration camps "was extrapolated out of context" by "the European left", and affirmed his "historic friendship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel". Berlusconi, long known for verbal gaffs, refused to apologize and said that he was a victim of political opponents who set a "campaign trap" to ensnare him ahead of European parliamentary elections on May 25.
    Controversy erupted when, over the weekend, the media magnate and centre-right leader said that "for the Germans, the concentration camps never existed," in a fresh attack on an old foe, Martin Schulz, the German head of the European Parliament and centre-left candidate to become the next European Commission president.
    The 77-year-old Berlusconi, who has been smarting after an Italian court upheld his ban on standing for election to the European parliament due to a tax-fraud conviction, had clashed before with Schulz, leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
    During an angry exchange between the two in June 2003, Berlusconi described Schulz as a guard in a Nazi death camp.
    On Monday, Berlusconi refused to back down from his comments about Germans, saying he had "no need to apologize either to Holocaust survivors or to German citizens".
    In an interview for Piazzapulita to be aired Monday evening on the La7 television channel, he said it was "surreal to call me hostile to the German people, my friends".
    Instead, Berlusconi said his frustration was with German-led fiscal austerity. "If I'm hostile to something it's counterproductive austerity, and rules and regulations that in my opinion are seriously flawed, which are burdening all of Europe with long-term economic stagnation," he added. Berlusconi sparked a similar storm late last year when he said his adult children had told him they feel they way Jewish families must have felt under Hitler because of the alleged judicial persecution against the ex-premier.
    The ex-premier was quickly lambasted by prominent members of Italy's Jewish community, who denounced comparisons of his wealthy family with the Jewish people under the persecution of Hitler.
    Berlusconi's list of current legal woes is lengthy: the year of community service from his tax-fraud conviction, which also carries a ban from office; he is appealing a six-year sentence for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power to cover it up; and he is on trial for allegedly bribing a centre-left Senator to switch sides.
    Throughout more than 20 legal cases since he first swept to victory in 1994, Berlusconi has said he is the victim of left-wing elements in the judiciary.
    Meanwhile, a darker image ex-premier was being presented in a courtroom in the southern Italian city of Bari where magistrates said "a disconcerting picture" of a prostitution ring including Berlusconi had been revealed. The statement was made in a Bari court's explanation of a December 2013 guilty verdict and one-year sentence against lawyer Salvatore Castellaneta for organizing 21 "bunga bunga" sex parties for Berlusconi from September 2008 to May 2009 in which 26 young women were "recruited".
    Berlusconi is not on trial in that case and says he never paid anyone for sex.


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