Court asked to put Berlusconi on trial

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Italian prosecutors today formally requested that premier Silvio Berlusconi stand trial over accusations he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and then used his influence to try to cover it up.

A judge must now decide whether to accept the prosecutors' request and indict the 74-year-old leader, or dismiss it.

The prosecutors filed their request in Milan. They are seeking an immediate trial.

Mr Berlusconi has denied the charges.

It is illegal in Italy to pay for sex with a woman under the age of 18.

Dozens of Mr Berlusconi's supporters protested against the prosecution's decision, some waving Italian flags in a demonstration across the street from the court entrance.

Mr Berlusconi was giving a news conference in Rome on his plans to relaunch the Italian economy with great public works while the application was made.

The prosecutors are seeking an immediate trial because they believe there is overwhelming evidence against the premier. The procedure allows them to skip the preliminary-hearing phase and go straight to court.

Prosecutors allege Mr Berlusconi paid for sex with 17-year-old Moroccan Karima el Mahroug, who has since turned 18, and then used his influence to get her out of police custody when she was detained for suspected theft, fearing her relationship to him would be revealed.

Ms el Mahroug, nicknamed Ruby the Heartstealer, was ultimately released into the custody of a Berlusconi aide who also is under investigation.

The premier's supporters say he made the call to avoid a diplomatic incident because he believed at the time that the girl was the niece of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

His defence maintains the case should be handled not by the Milan prosecutors but by a special tribunal set up to deal with alleged offences committed by public officials.

The prosecution said they did not believe the alleged crime was committed in the exercise of Mr Berlusconi's institutional duties.

Mr Berlusconi today called the investigation "disgusting," saying it was aimed at damaging his government.

He said the accusations against him were groundless and insisted the Milan prosecutors were violating the law by overstepping their jurisdiction.

The judge is expected to be make his decision on the trial in the next two weeks.