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Berlusconi makes court appearance amid fresh scandal

posted 19 Sept 2011, 04:14 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 Sept 2011, 04:17 ]

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears in a Milan court for one of several trials he is involved in, as pressure grows for him to resign in the wake of fresh embarrassing revelations of parties and young women.

MILAN, ITALY (SEPTEMBER 19, 2011) REUTERS - Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi appeared in a Milan court on Monday (September 19) amid growing tensions stemming from ongoing financial market turmoil in Italy and new media revelations on his personal life.

The convoy of vehicles carrying Berlusconi arrived at Milan's Palace of Justice five minutes before the start of the hearing, scheduled for 11:00 a.m. local time (09:00gmt), with dark curtains in his car's windows hiding the prime minister from view.

Berlusconi is accused of having bribed British lawyer David Mills to lie and thus protect Fininvest -- a media group holding company controlled by Silvio Berlusconi's family -- from possible criminal charges. Berlusconi has always maintained his innocence.

The prime minister faced growing pressure to resign over the weekend 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 days have replaced front page headlines on soaring bond yields and sliding shares with wiretapped chats between Berlusconi and Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman suspected of providing prostitutes for the premier.

An excerpt reported by major dailies, has Berlusconi joking to a young woman that he is premier in his "spare time".

But the latest revelations -- separate from the "Rubygate" case in which Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with a minor -- add to an ever more tangled web around the 74-year-old.

The opposition has stepped up calls for Berlusconi to resign, saying he has been too distracted by his personal legal problems and internal coalition battles to provide effective leadership in a crisis that now threatens the whole euro zone.

Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, is dependent on help from the European Central Bank to keep a lid on its borrowing costs and is under heavy pressure to pass tough reforms to cut debt and revive its stagnant economy.

Apart from "Rubygate" and three tax fraud trials, magistrates are still waiting for a date to question Berlusconi over an alleged attempt by Tarantini to extort money from him in return for his silence over the prostitution allegations.

Magistrates have also moved closer to pressing charges over allegations connected with an attempted takeover, by Italian investors, of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in 2005.

Contrary to previous hearings, few Italians, supporters or protesters, gathered around Milan's Palace of Justice to see Berlusconi's arrival. One woman was wearing a banner reading in Italian, "Berlusconi: the only rubbish in Italy is you!"

A Milan passer by thought the prime minister attended the hearing on Monday in an attempt to mute public opinion.

"I think he showed up today just to keep us quiet," said Franca Michaeli.