Silvio Berlusconi calls for new laws to protect himself

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Wednesday said he would propose new laws to prevent magistrates from pursuing elected officials, as he went on the offensive over allegations he paid for sex with a minor.

The 74-year-old prime minister has been under mounting pressure to resign since magistrates in Milan accused him of paying for sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer who goes by the name "Ruby the Heart Stealer".

In a televised address, a tense-looking Mr Berlusconi once again denied having sex with the Moroccan runaway and laid into the judiciary for waging a "true and real persecution" of him.

Mr Berlusconi, who had already dismissed calls to resign, promised to take his battle to parliament – though any reform will be difficult to pull off since a split with ally Gianfranco Fini last year cost him a secure majority in parliament.

"There is nothing that I have to be ashamed of," Mr Berlusconi said. "The government will continue to work, and parliament will make the necessary reforms to guarantee that a magistrate will not be able to try to illegitimately destroy someone who has been elected by the citizens."

The media mogul, who has been summoned by magistrates for questioning later this week, said he has refused on the basis that biased Milan magistrates did not have the right to preside over the case.

"I can't present myself to public prosecutors that do not have either the functional or territorial competency, and also so as not to endorse this illegitimacy," he said, saying this was the 28th time in 17 years that Milan judges had pursued him.

"I want to go to trial straight away, with this undisputable proof, but I want to do it with impartial judges and not with public ministers who want to use this as a political fight."

Mr Berlusconi has long accused "communist" magistrates of hounding him with spurious charges to oust him from politics and has made judicial reform that rids him of legal headaches a top priority since returning to power in 2008.

"The legal violations committed in these investigations are so numerous and so incredible that I can't tell you about them because you could denounce them and tell your friends how they are trying to subvert the popular vote," he said.

The latest scandal comes at a particularly difficult time for the prime minister, who narrowly scraped through a confidence vote last month and lost automatic immunity from prosecution after a top court ruling last week.

Though he has seen off a series of sex scandals, his public image has taken a beating with the Ruby investigation and the publication of phone conversations describing kinky parties at his house with showgirls in, among other things, nurse uniforms.

Still, the tycoon has been written off many times since he first entered politics in 1994, only to come back stronger.

(Published by Telegraph - January 20, 2011)

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