berlusconi GREAT 311.
(photo credit: AP)
ROME — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi dismissed calls Tuesday to resign over his involvement with an underage Moroccan runaway — and even created a new uproar by claiming it was better to love beautiful girls than gays.
RELATED:Berlusconi: 'We hope that Israel doesn't attack Iran'Carmen meets Queen Esther, and Silvio Berlusconi, in Holon
His comments sparked outrage from gay rights groups and fueled new calls for him to step down.
Berlusconi again defended his lifestyle and fondness for young
women, telling a trade fair in Milan on Tuesday it was "better to be
passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay."
Gay rights group Arcigay demanded an apology for causing offense to both women and gays.
The premier's comments "represent a dangerous incitement to prejudice and helps legitimize discrimination, injustice and suffering," Arcigay president Paolo Pantane wrote in a letter to Berlusconi's minister for equal opportunity, Mara Carfagna.
In response, Carfagna defended Berlusconi's record on anti-discrimination measures and said he had just been joking.
"(He) absolutely never intended to offend women or homosexuals," she said.
Berlusconi assured supporters on Tuesday that his government still had a majority and would last the remaining three years of its five-year term. He said early elections would be a disaster for a country grappling with economic crisis.
Opposition politicians have charged that Berlusconi abused his office by
calling Milan police in May when the then-17-year-old runaway nicknamed
Ruby was detained for alleged theft. Newspapers have reported that
Berlusconi told police that a local party official would take custody of
the girl, who had visited Berlusconi's Milan villa on at least one
Even center-right commentators in Berlusconi's family-owned newspapers
have criticized him for intervening in a possible criminal case.
Berlusconi's now-estranged ally, Gianfranco Fini, said his antics had
embarrassed the country.
He contended that the Ruby scandal was whipped up by hostile, deceptive
newspapers and again defended his decision to intervene in her case.
Ruby was let go by police with no charges after Nicole Minetti, a party
official who is also Berlusconi's dental hygienist, took custody of her.
Berlusconi said Tuesday he'd do the same thing again.
"You will see when this is over that there was nothing more than an act of solidarity," he said.
Ruby, meanwhile, told Libero, a conservative newspaper close to
Berlusconi, that she would tell her version of the story Thursday on a
popular state-run TV talk show, but her lawyer later said there were no
such plans. Ruby's comments have been inconsistent and prosecutors have
reportedly questioned her credibility.
She repeated she never had intimate relations with the premier, though
she said she "adored" him. She clarified that while another young woman
linked to Berlusconi, Noemi Letizia, referred to him as "papi,"
("daddy") she called him "premier."
Berlusconi's relationship with Letizia, an 18-year-old would-be model
from Naples, sparked a scandal last year that prompted Berlusconi's
second wife to file for divorce.
Soon after, a high-end prostitute, Patrizia D'Addario, claimed she had
spent a night with the premier and had tape recorded their encounter.
The conservative leader has said he has never paid anyone for sex.
Prosecutors have said Berlusconi is not under investigation in the
scandals over his dalliances with women.