(photo credit: Reuters)
MILAN - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute and later trying to cover it up opened on Wednesday and was immediately adjourned until May 31.
The "Rubygate" case has gripped media attention like few others, overshadowing Italian politics for months, although it has not caused the kind of damage to Berlusconi's political career that it would have in many other European countries.
Italy's Berlusconi indicted in prostitution probe
Berlusconi, attending a cabinet meeting Rome, chose not to attend the opening session, which lasted about 10 minutes.
Some 100 television crews from as far away as Australia had been vying for space in front of the courthouse after the judges ruled they would not be allowed to enter. About 100 journalists were expected inside the court.
Berlusconi is accused of giving cash and jewels to Moroccan-born Karima
El Mahroug, a dancer who goes by the stage name of Ruby, in exchange for
sex when she was only 17 years old and thus too young under Italian law
to be paid as a prostitute.
Berlusconi is also accused of abusing the powers of his office to have
Ruby released from police custody over unrelated theft allegations, in
an apparent bid to prevent details of their connection emerging in
Berlusconi has denied the charges against him and has launched a string
of bitter attacks on what he describes as leftist magistrates determined
to destroy him politically.
Already hit by a party revolt last year that nearly sank his
center-right government, he has been hurt by the affair, which has drawn
condemnation from women's groups, the Catholic Church and even the
country's main business lobby.
But public opinion in Italy, traditionally forgiving in questions of
private morality, has not been as damning as it would be in many
countries and his parliamentary majority has been strong enough to see
off opposition calls on him to resign.