The italian opposition yesterday claimed that Silvio Berlusconi's sex scandal had damaged the image of the government as a magazine released more recordings of what appeared to be conversations between the Prime Minister and a prostitute.
In a motion before the Senate which conservatives blocked, the opposition called on politicians to show "decorum" in their private lives and be cautious in their acquaintances. It was the first time the scandal had directly reached the floor of parliament.
The news weekly L'Espresso released further escort tapes yesterday, including one featuring an explicit conversation between Mr Berlusconi and Patrizia D'Addario at breakfast, where they appear to be teasing each other about their alleged sexual escapades the night before.
There is also audio of a conversation between Ms D'Addario and Giampaolo Tarantini, the Bari businessman at the heart of a prostitution investigation, where he gives her advice about meeting the Prime Minister. (See box, below)
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer has disputed the veracity of the tapes, the first of which were released on Monday, saying they were "the fruit of invention".
The motion presented yesterday by the centre-left Democratic Party stated that the scandal had "objectively weakened the image and authority of the Italian government".
It urges those who in the government, whose conservative cabinet is made up of members who often defend family values, to be consistent in their private life and in their public speech.
Mr Berlusconi's coalition, which has control of the Senate, voted to postpone any discussion or vote on the motion, a move the opposition charged was made in the hope the scandal would fade during the summer break.
The 72-year-old Italian leader has denied that he paid anyone for sex and has called the allegations "trash" meant to smear him. The months-long scandal had hardly dented Mr Berlusconi's popularity, but, yesterday, a new poll saw his approval rating drop below 50 per cent for the first time.
Only 49 per cent of those polled expressed confidence in Mr Berlusconi as leader, a fall of four points since the same group, IPR Marketing, last conducted the survey in May.
The poll was taken for La Repubblica newspaper, Italy's second-largest selling mainstream paper, which is part of the same publishing empire as L'Espresso and has been leading demands that Mr Berlusconi clear up aspects of his personal life.
The escort at the centre of the scandal, Ms D'Addario, has said that she taped her encounters with Mr Berlusconi, including at the parties he threw for young women at his residences.
In one of the recordings released on Monday, a voice purported to be the Prime Minister's is heard telling Ms D'Addario: "I'm going to take a shower as well... and then will you wait for me in the big bed if you finish first?"
Ms D'Addario has said the encounter took place on 4 November at the Prime Minister's Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli – and that Mr Berlusconi skipped a US election party to spend the night with her.
The 42-year-old woman, who had arrived in Rome from the southern Italian city of Bari where she resides, says she spent the night with Mr Berlusconi, returning in the morning to a posh hotel in the capital where she was staying.
The L'Espresso website had a record 2.1 million hits on Monday after it posted the tapes.
The escort tapes: Latest recording
Giampaolo Tarantini: Listen, he doesn't use a condom.
Patrizia D'Addario: But there's no such thing as no condom... how can I have confidence?
GT: But... it's Berlusconi
PD: Who are you? Look... do you know how many people...
GT: Do you know how many medicals he has?
PD: I know, but... look, it's more beautiful for us women too... I have to say... but to hear such a thing...
GT: You can decide.
Translated from L'Espresso