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Italian women mixed on sex scandal

By Hada Messia, CNN
Nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug told her version of events on Italian TV last week.
Nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug told her version of events on Italian TV last week.
  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at center of sex scandal
  • Among Italian women the mood is almost lethargic rather than anger
  • One woman told CNN: "Cosi fan tutti" which translates roughly as "they're all doing something"
  • Berlusconi and his associates all deny any wrongdoing

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is no stranger to controversy -- and he is now battling a sex scandal that could end up in the criminal courts. But he is nothing if not a political survivor.

For days the Italian media has provided wall-to-wall coverage of a magistrate's investigation into Berlusconi's private life and his alleged weakness for private dancers.

The allegations include one that Berlusconi paid for sex with a minor. He denies having sex with the teenaged private dancer -- and denies knowing she was 17 when they met last year. The dancer has also denied having sex with Berlusconi and says she told him she was 24.

On the streets of Rome many women are shrugging off the latest alleged foibles of their prime minister although there is concern at the message it sends to young women. They say "cosi fan tutti," roughly translated as "they're all doing something."

For a decade Berlusconi's supporters have defended him against a stream of charges and accusations, claiming that Italian magistrates are out to get him and that a hostile media does nothing but attack him -- even though he actually owns large sections of the media.

Berlusconi phones to TV show live on air

This latest scandal also involves some of Berlsuconi's associates -- who are suspected of aiding and abetting prostitution. Some have been recorded on wiretaps. All deny wrongdoing.

For his defenders, Berlusconi's actions are no different from those of other politicians, with their favorite example being U.S. President Bill Clinton. In other words peccadilloes, but nothing criminal.

To his critics, the latest allegations are proof that Berlusconi is guilty of misconduct on a variety of fronts -- including corruption and now crimes of a sexual nature. He has been investigated on at least 17 charges since his first time as prime minister in 1994. No charge has yet stuck.

But among ordinary Italians who spoke to CNN, there seems to be little indignation and an overriding mood of resignation, almost lethargy.

At a recent rally where the demonstrators called for Berlusconi's resignation, about 150 people turned up.

The largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, has asked for the premier to resign, but it hasn't done it in any formal parliamentarian request.

It has also said it will organize a petition with the hopes of gathering up to 10 million signatures, but it will not start collecting them until February.

At a cafe in Rome's historic center, owner Daniela says: "All politicians are dirty pigs. Those before Berlusconi did it before him and those after him will do the same. What is the difference?

"I'm so sick and tired of hearing about scandals here and scandals there, what scandal? What is a scandal when they all do it? I try not to read the newspapers because none of them deal with our real problems.

Her daughter and assistant 22-year-old Federica says Berlusconi is no worse than most. "He might be the head of the government but everybody has the right to do what he or she pleases. It doesn't seem to me that he broke the law. If a girl wants to do that kind of business, why not? It is sad but that is the way it is everywhere.

"Should he resign? They all should resign; we are a joke. It is the country of jokes. But how much will it really change?"

A regular at the cafe, shopkeeper Letizia, 36, weighed into the argument "They might be all the same, but now we know how squalid Berlusconi is. He represents us, and he should resign. At least make the gesture even if things don't change that much. Unfortunately he reflects the average Italian. The one that thinks that everybody can do what it pleases."

Another regular, Giuliana said that in her clothing shop she can tell that people are sickened by politicians in general. "People are tired of it all. They are de-sensitized. They are so overly nauseated that they don't give a damn any more and don't think that the premier's resignation will change anything. So what is the point?"

Away from the cafe, Analisa Amicucci, a 46-year-old lawyer, continues to defend Berlusconi against the witch-hunt. She fervently believes that the premier should not resign and should fight any pressure to do so.

She said: "They (the magistrates and the left wing parties) have nothing to incriminate him. All his trials have ended in nothing, in a soap bubble. They want to subvert the vote of the majority of Italians who elected this government.

"They (the left) want to do a coup through the judiciary. They have not understood that if they want to govern they have to roll up the sleeves and do what Berlusconi does and not rely on the judiciary to their job.

"They've tried for years, since 1994. They've been unable to prove anything against him on his private business, and now they try to get at him on his private life. They've attempted it already with the previous sex scandals. It didn't work and this affair will not work either."

A recent poll taken by IPSOS, one of the most reliable and prestigious Italian pollsters, showed that that if Italians were voting now 30.2 percent -- the highest support for a party -- would still choose Berlusconi's "People of Freedom" party.

But there are those who are utterly disgusted at his reported behavior.

Sixty-year-old clothes store owner Martina Elkan said: "He insults all women... It is an offence to them, to me as a woman. It is teaching young girls "don't worry about studying..." I'm a mother of two women, and grandmother of four girls. What am I to do?"

"I belong to the generation of the battles for the rights of women. We use to march for them. And for what? We are going backwards not forwards. We fought so that we can be respected as women and now we've turned into cannon fodder."

But even she recognizes there is a certain lack of urgency in the country. "The idea that of his impunity has matured to the level that everybody thinks he can do whatever he wants. We might get angry but what can we do. It is almost better to stay quiet."