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Europe

'I'm no saint', says Berlusconi

Video by Gulliver CRAGG

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-23

PM Silvio Berlusconi has launched a fightback against his critics following the release of recordings which appear to indicate that Berlusconi had a liaison with a call girl. However, the Italian leader did not deny that the recordings were real.

AFP - Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday vaunted his "good taste, culture and elegance" as he confronted growing pressure over an alleged liaison with a call girl.

The billionaire politician said "no inelegant situations can arise" when he hosts guests at any of his homes "because I am a person of good taste, culture and elegance."

Berlusconi, 72, spoke after the left-leaning La Repubblica daily and its sister newsweekly L'Espresso published audio clips and transcripts of conversations seemingly showing a liaison with a call girl, Patrizia D'Addario.

The 42-year-old prostitute is at the centre of a corruption investigation into entrepreneur Gianpaolo Tarantini, who allegedly arranged the tryst.

Speaking at a meeting of his centre-right People of Freedom party, Berlusconi said: "We let people keep their mobile phones because, at least when I am there, no inelegant situations can arise."

He added: "Not only starlets come to my home, but also heads of state and government."

D'Addario has said she records all her conversations with clients and has handed over recordings of those with Berlusconi to the corruption probe.

She claims to have filmed Berlusconi's bedroom with her mobile phone as well as the bedside table with a framed photograph of his second wife Veronica Lario, who has filed for divorce.

Earlier, the prime minister admitted that he is "not a saint," and said: "Let's hope the people at La Repubblica understand that."

The prime minister "was rattled before and he is getting more rattled," said political scientist James Walston, noting that Berlusconi has not denied that the recordings are real.

Saying so "would be very risky," the American University of Rome professor told AFP.

The media tycoon "was let off the hook briefly while the G8 (Group of Eight summit) was on," Walston said two weeks after Berlusconi won kudos for hosting the meeting of top world leaders.

"Now it's summer squirming," Walston said, adding that the scandals could provoke Berlusconi's ouster later this year "if there are major economic problems."

Dire economic figures presage an autumn of discontent: Italy's gross domestic product is projected to shrink by 5.2 percent this year after a contraction of 1.0 percent in 2008.

La Repubblica has carried a stream of reports on the prime minister's alleged peccadilloes since April.

The series began with his unexplained relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring model who calls him "Daddy."

The scandal moved on to compromising photos taken at Berlusconi's luxury villa in Sardinia, published by the Spanish daily El Pais before moving on to the call girl revelations.

The photos were among some 5,000 snaps taken by photographer Antonello Zappadu, since banned from publication in Italy.

Zappadu told a Rome news conference on Wednesday that the collection was under lock and key in Colombia, where his wife comes from.

"My pictures are more frightening than the recordings because you see real people and situations," he said.

"I'm not a paparazzo but a journalist who wants to show the indecent life of the head of government," he said.

Meanwhile, L'Espresso said that the group has sued Berlusconi for defamation following a speech last month when Berlusconi called on young entrepreneurs not to advertise in what he called a "subversive" newspaper.

The media group could in turn be sued over the clips, Berlusconi's lawyer warned Monday.

Berlusconi on Wednesday questioned the latest La Repubblica opinion survey that put his popularity at 49 percent -- the first time the figure has dipped below 50 percent since Berlusconi's election in April 2008.

The newspaper Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, published a poll Wednesday giving the prime minister between 68 and 69 percent of popular support.

Date created : 2009-07-23

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