Berlusconi dismisses scandal, saying 'I love women'

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Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said today he loved life and women and would not apologise for enjoying himself after new reports of girls and parties at his home were splashed across the front pages.

Italian newspapers have reported that a 17 year-old Moroccan known as "Ruby" told Milan magistrates she had attended parties at Berlusconi's residence in Arcore near Milan, triggering a fresh scandal over the prime minister's private life.

The influential Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana said on Friday Berlusconi was in a "state of sickness".

Last year, Berlusconi's estranged wife Veronica accused him of "consorting with minors" after he was filmed at the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model.

Accounts of what is supposed to have gone on at the most recent parties are vague and vary widely. Berlusconi said he did not want to add to what Ruby had said but he did not deny entertaining her at his villa.

"I am very proud of my ability to be a host, a rather rare, perhaps unique host," he told reporters after a meeting with European leaders in Brussels. "I am a playful person, full of life. I love life, I love women."

The 74-year-old prime minister said he was entitled to some relaxation after the strains of office which required him to work 19-hour days, seven days a week.

"I have a terrible life. I have a life which requires super-human efforts," he said. "I work like nobody else does, until half past two at night."

"If, every now and then, I feel the need for a relaxed evening, to tell some jokes, for mental therapy, to clear my brain from all these worries, I think that is part of my personality and at my age, noone can make me change my way of life," he said.

Berlusconi said he had helped the girl, who came from a tough background, when she was in trouble with police. He said he had tried to find her shelter but he denied paying her or arranging any improper interference in the justice system.

"This person was presented to me as having a tragic life and I decided to help her, as I help anyone who comes in contact with me, when I can," he said. "I didn't give her cars, all these things which don't exist."

Berlusconi has never tried to conceal his enjoyment of the company of young women but reactions over the revelations have varied from head-shaking concern over the latest blow to Italy's political credibility to outright mockery.

Coming after a scandal over chronic failures in the waste collection system in Naples, the affair has also raised questions over the government as a whole.

"The first of these has to do with Berlusconi's ability to continue to exercise his institutional role with the necessary serenity and efficiency," business daily Il Sole 24 Ore wrote.

Famiglia Cristiana, Italy's top-selling weekly, said the reports highlighted a fundamental problem with Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men as well as its prime minister.

"A state of sickness, something uncontrollable because it is enabled, even encouraged by power and the enormous availability of money," it said. "It is incredible that a man at that level of responsibility does not have the necessary self-control."

The opposition has seized on the reports, saying that the prime minister had lost all credibility and should explain exactly how he had intervened with police to help Ruby.

"We are not interested in his private life, we are interested in his public life," Pierluigi Bersani, head of the centre-left Democratic Party said in a statement.

"We want to know what happened between the prime minister's office and the Milan police."

Berlusconi's approval ratings, which suffered heavily during the last scandal over young girls in 2009, have been falling steadily as high joblessness, government infighting and a variety of corruption scandals have undermined his popularity.

The prime minister himself said the latest uproar had been deliberately provoked by the left-wing opposition.

"Having realised that the presence of Berlusconi means it is impossible for them to gain power they attack me with extraordinary force," he said.