Berlusconi under more pressure

Sun, Sep 18, 2011, 01:00

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing growing pressure to resign after embarrassing new revelations of parties and young women prompted questions about his ability to govern a country rocked by financial crisis.



Italian newspapers in recent day have replaced front page headlines on soaring bond yields and sliding shares with wiretapped chats between Mr Berlusconi and Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman suspected of providing prostitutes for the premier.

In one excerpt published by the Corriere della Sera daily, Mr Berlusconi boasts of champagne-filled partying with women till 6:30 am at a Milan nightclub and pocketing eight phone numbers of women.

"If you have a girl -- two girls, three girls -- to bring," Berlusconi is quoted as asking the southern businessman ahead of their next encounter. "Please don't get tall ones ... because we are not tall."

In another excerpt reported by major dailies, Mr Berlusconi says "Gianpi" and his female friends could come along on the premier's flight to Milan. Yet another has him joking to a young woman that he works as prime minister during his "spare time".

Opposition parties stepped up calls for Mr Berlusconi to resign after the latest disclosures, saying a country struggling to overcome a debt crisis that threatens the euro zone could not afford a premier who "governs in his spare time".

"Is there a single reason comprehensible to the world on why Mr Berlusconi should not resign?," Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party said. "We have very serious problems."

Mr Berlusconi's old ally-turned-enemy Gianfranco Fini also called for a new government, while the Italy of Values party run by centrist Antonio Di Pietro said it was time for elections.

Mr Berlusconi loyalists rallied to defend the premier and said he had no plans to resign.

Mr Berlusconi has hung on despite a barrage of lurid scandals over the years including the infamous "Rubygate" affair where he is accused of paying for sex with a teenaged prostitute.

His wife asked for a divorce saying he cavorted with minors. Revelations of "bunga bunga" parties with escorts and showgirls angling for jobs in his media empire have prompted incredulity and sniggers, but failed to push him out of power.

Still, the latest disclosures come at a sensitive time for the premier, who is grappling with slumping ratings, frustrated allies, a financial storm that has driven up Italy's borrowing costs and an unpopular austerity package.