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Italian women to stage anti-Berlusconi rallies

Premier's supporters protest against Ruby probe in Milan

11 February, 17:33
Italian women to stage anti-Berlusconi rallies (ANSA) - Rome, February 11 - Women will take to the streets of Italy's cities on Sunday calling on Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign after prosecutors this week requested he be sent to trial for allegedly using an underage prostitute.

The protesters say evidence leaked from the probe into Berlusconi allegedly paying for sex with a then-17 Moroccan belly dancer called Ruby show the 74-year-old premier has little respect for female dignity.

They say wiretaps published in the media suggest he surrounded himself at parties at his home with starlets and other women hoping to use their looks to gain positions in politics or at Berlusconi's Mediaset TV empire.

''The Ruby case has revealed a system of political selection based on an exchange of sex and power,'' said Iaia Caputo of the organising committee of the protests, entitled ''If Not Now, When?'', also the title of a famous Primo Levi novel.

''If we accept this as normal, we risk prejudicing the free choice of women.

''We want to send a message to the country and to the parties that do not see themselves a part of what has happened over the last few weeks - it's possible to change route''.

Berlusconi's cabinet features a former show girl, Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna.

One of the people under investigation in the Ruby probe, the premier's former dental hygienist Nicole Minetti - another showgirl who allegedly procured prostitutes for parties at Berlusconi's home - is a Lombardy regional councilor for his People of Freedom (PdL) party. Berlusconi denies ever paying for sex with Ruby, who is now 18 and whose real name is Karima El Mahroug, or anyone else and says all the women he has given political or media roles to were appointed on merit. The media magnate, who could also go on trial for allegedly abusing his power when he called police to get Ruby out of custody last May following an unrelated theft accusation, says he is the victim of biased magistrates who are seeking to oust him from power.

He has plenty of supporters in Italy who agree with him, including many women, some of whom took part in a PdL rally outside courts in Milan on Friday against the prosecutors' alleged persecution of the premier and violation of his privacy.

The PdL continues to top Italy's opinion polls despite the Ruby case, the latest in a string of sex scandals to hit the premier.

Furthermore, skepticism about Sunday's demonstrations is not limited to PdL supporters. Pop singer Anna Tatangelo said she would not be taking part.

''I don't think the protest will help the climate in Italy,'' Tatangelo told ANSA.

''It's necessary to calm things down and restore order in the political situation and the basic things that concern our country. ''Don't go and protest, think about how we can really get back up''. One of the biggest ''If Not Now, When?'' events will take place in Milan, where comedienne Paola Cortellesi, actress Franca Rame and publisher Inge Feltrinelli are set to join in.

Men will not be excluded from the protests.

There will also be other protests for and against Berlusconi in various parts of Italy all weekend. A preliminary hearings judge is not expected to announce before Monday or Tuesday whether she has granted the prosecutors' request to send the Ruby case to trial. If approved, the trial would start around Easter, legal experts say.