Can Italian Premier Survive Latest Scandal?

ROME (AP) - Silvio Berlusconi has survived corruption
allegations, a playboy reputation and his wife's wrath to become
Italy's longest-serving prime minister. Now come allegations from a
high-end prostitute that she spent the night at his residence and
can prove it.

Berlusconi denies the claim, but there are signs of trouble
ahead: Prosecutors are examining images Patrizia D'Addario
allegedly took of his bedroom and telephone recordings of him
allegedly sweet-talking her - and the Roman Catholic Church is
warning the "limits of decency" have been breached.

A defiant Berlusconi - sometimes referred to as the "Teflon"
prime minister for his ability to escape controversy - says he has
nothing to be sorry about.

But the scandal engulfing Berlusconi over his purported fondness
for young models and starlets shows no signs of letting up. With
newspapers competing for the last tawdry detail, Italians are
taking a new look at the life of the man they voted into power
three times and finding a very different Berlusconi.

On Wednesday, Berlusconi launched a new tourism campaign for
Italy, saying the country needed to rehabilitate its image
internationally because its reputation had been tarnished by his
recent personal scandals and a garbage crisis in Naples last year.

Still, Berlusconi - known for his colorful quotes and
international gaffes - seems to have a knack for dodging scandal.
He won a landslide election victory last year despite corruption
charges hanging over him, and recent scrutiny surrounding his use
of government airplanes has had little impact.

The new accusations against the prime minister come just a few
weeks before he hosts President Barack Obama and many of the
world's leaders at a G-8 summit in earthquake stricken L'Aquila.

"There is nothing in my private life that I should apologize
for," Berlusconi told the gossip magazine Chi, which he owns, in
the issue on newsstands Wednesday.

"I have never paid a woman. I never understood what the
satisfaction is when you are missing the pleasure of conquest,"
the 72-year-old premier was quoted as saying.

Until the interview, Berlusconi had simply dismissed as
"garbage" and a smear campaign reports that an acquaintance of
his had recruited three women, and paid two of them, to attend
parties at his residences.

To break the silence and address the accusations directly, the
premier chose a popular magazine that is part of his Mondadori
publishing house.

On the cover, above a headline reading: "Now I do the
talking," a smiling Berlusconi sits on a lawn, his one-year-old
grandson at his side. In other photos inside, the premier is seen
surrounded by his grandchildren and children, and in one, he's
playing at the piano with grandson Alessandro, dressed in a sailor
suit.

The photos offer a stark contrast with the image of Berlusconi
depicted in recent weeks by Italian newspapers: a rich and powerful
flirt who liked being surrounded by pretty women while he boasted
of his visits to the White House, cracked jokes and sang songs.

"There must be limits," said Famiglia Cristiana, an
influential Catholic magazine that is distributed in parishes
across Italy. "Those limits of decency have been exceeded."

"Those who have power, even with wide popular mandate, cannot
claim they are in ethics-free territory," the magazine said in an
editorial this week.

Famiglia Cristiana was the second Catholic publication to
criticize the premier. The newspaper of Italy's bishops conference,
Avvenire, urged Berlusconi to respond to the accusations last week.

The scandal began weeks ago when the premier's wife, Veronica
Lario, announced she was divorcing him. At the time, she voiced
outrage at his selection of young starlets and showgirls for
European Parliament elections and condemned his attendance at a
birthday party for an 18-year-old girl, to whom he gave a gold and
diamond necklace.

The woman at the center of the current scandal, Patrizia
D'Addario, described by her friends as a high-end prostitute from
Bari, told Corriere della Sera newspaper that she was paid euro1,000
($1,400) to attend a party in October 2008 at the premier's
residence in Rome, and then returned Nov. 4 and stayed the night.

She told Corriere she wore a recording device during her time
with Berlusconi - recordings that have been turned over to
prosecutors in Bari. The prosecutors are investigating a local
businessman, Giampaolo Tarantini, who is accused of recruiting and
paying the women.

Corriere also reported that telephone taps also uncovered an
escort ring catering to wealthy businessmen spending weekends in
the posh Cortina alpine ski resort, but Berlusconi was not linked
to that.

"I have no memory of her. I didn't know her name and didn't
remember her face," Berlusconi told Chi. "I see dozens and dozens
of people every day for the most different reasons. I don't want to
offend anybody, but obviously I cannot remember each of them."

Berlusconi claimed D'Addario was paid to make the allegations,
which have spurred the Bari investigation. D'Addario has denied she
was paid to mount a scandal.

D'Addario's friend, Barbara Montereale, told the left-leaning La
Repubblica over the weekend that she, too, attended the Nov. 4
party. Corriere della Sera this week published what it said were
photos taken by Montereale and another woman in a bathroom of
Berlusconi's Rome residence that evening.

Montereale has also said she attended another party at
Berlusconi's Sardinian villa in mid-January. For that party,
Montereale said she received euro1,000 from Tarantini and another
envelope with cash from the premier himself after she confided she
was having problems raising an infant alone. She stressed she
wasn't a prostitute and didn't have sexual relations with the
premier.

In a subsequent interview, Montereale told Repubblica that
during her stay at Berlusconi's Sardinian villa she saw many other
girls, who she said appeared to be Eastern European by their
accents.

"They were very familiar with the premier and all called him
'Daddy.' They were all jealous of each other and in competition
with each other,"' Montereale was quoted as saying. She said at
one point they all dressed up as "little Santas."

Both D'Addario and Montereale said they were offered candidacies
in recent local elections in Bari with a party affiliated with
Berlusconi's Freedom People's party, though neither won.

In an interview with Repubblica, Montereale showed off the gifts
she said she had received from the premier - colorful pendants in
the shape of turtles and butterflies, a flower-shaped ring and
other trinkets.

Despite criticism at home and abroad that he is unfit to govern,
Berlusconi appears to have kept his popularity virtually intact.
His center-right forces have emerged victorious from EU elections
earlier this month and a spate of local and provincial runoffs this
past weekend.

Berlusconi was forced to resign after only a few months of his
first term when a key coalition ally pulled out of the government,
partially over a corruption scandal. So far his present alliance is
sticking together.


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