In the face of massive week end rallies against his attitude towards women held by women's groups across the world, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi remained defiant, saying he had the knack of making women “feel special”. He dismissed the demonstrations as being politically motivated.

“I saw the usual partisan mobilisation against my person by a Left-wing that uses any excuse to try to beat an adversary they have not been able to beat democratically at the ballot box,” he said, defying calls for his resignation.

Hundreds and thousands of women, in some 230 Italian cities and 30 foreign capitals took to the streets calling for the resignation of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who they said had brought shame to Italy and to women in particular.

The demonstrations organised mainly through the Internet and social networking sites succeeded beyond the expectations of the organisers. Shouting the slogan “If not now, when?” over a million women across the world accused Mr. Berlusconi of attitudes that promoted the “exploitation of underage prostitution”. They also accused him of “abuse of office and influence”.

Rubygate

Women's groups have taken a personal affront to the Italian Prime Minister's efforts to laugh off this latest scandal known as “Rubygate” when a young Moroccan prostitute (she was just 17 when the incident occurred) dialled his personal mobile phone and got him to force the police to release her. She had been detained for theft.

In his defence, the Prime Minister said he was convinced that “Ruby” as the girl called herself was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “It is strange,” one of the prosecutors acidly remarked, “that Mr. Berlusconi should secure her release and then fail to notify the Egyptian Ambassador in Rome so that the poor child could be properly looked after instead of having to spend the night with a Brazilian prostitute friend.”

Stretched, lifted, botoxed with liberal hair transplants, Mr. Berlusconi looks like a conflated tailor's dummy — wax-like and unreal. At 74, his “entertainments” or Bunga Bunga parties which feature several very young women who are paid to attend, have received increasing media attention with Church and women's groups being among the most critical.

Marco Tarquinio, editor of L'Avvenire, the daily paper run by the Italian bishops, wrote in an editorial: “if I were a woman, I would be in the piazza today”.

The women who joined the rallies cut across political lines as Catholic nuns and teachers, Right-wing corporate women and Left-wing trade unionists made common cause.

Susanna Camusso, leader of Italy's leftist confederated trade union CGIL, asked Italian women to “break the silence”.

“We want a country that respects women,” Ms. Camusso said. “I would like a country where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, I would like a country where, when you talk about minors, you think of studies, of sport, of the future . . . I would like a country where when you say ‘sex', this does not mean the attribution of a job in Mr. Berlusconi's political party.”

At the rally in Milan, Nobel Prize winner and playwright Dario Fo said: “I have often seen people who judged the quality of their life by the number of women surrounding them and for whose favours they often paid with public money. That is exactly what Berlusconi does”.

Meanwhile, a judge in Italy is set to announce whether Mr. Berlusconi will face an immediate trial on charges of abuse of power and sex with an underage prostitute. Judge Cristina di Censo can order the trial to go ahead without the traditional preliminary hearing, as Milan chief prosecutor Edmundo Bruti Liberati requested, or dismiss it, allowing investigations to continue to determine if there is enough evidence for trial. She can also refer the case to another jurisdiction, or request one more day to make her decision.

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