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Italy judge to decide on Berlusconi trial

From Hada Messia, CNN
Thousands of Italians took to the streets across the country Sunday to protest Berlusconi's alleged behavior toward women.
Thousands of Italians took to the streets across the country Sunday to protest Berlusconi's alleged behavior toward women.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prosecutors want the Italian prime minister to face immediate trial
  • He's accused of sex with an under-aged prostitute and abuse of power
  • Berlusconi and the young woman deny they had sex
  • Thousands of Italians in some 200 cities rally against the prime minister

Milan, Italy (CNN) -- A judge in Italy is set to announce whether Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will face an immediate trial on charges of abuse of power and sex with an underage prostitute.

Prosecutors in Milan filed the request for trial last week, setting in motion a five-day clock for Judge Cristina di Censo to make a decision.

She can order the trial to go ahead without the traditional preliminary hearing, as Milan chief prosecutor Edmundo Bruti Liberati requested, or dismiss it, allowing investigations to continue to determine if there is enough evidence for trial.

She can also refer the case to another jurisdiction, or request one more day to make her decision.

Berlusconi's lawyers have argued that the Milan courts do not have jurisdiction -- because of where the alleged crimes were committed -- or the authority to try a prime minister.

Prosecutors are investigating claims that Berlusconi paid for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahrough, who was 17 at the time of the alleged activity, and later intervened with the police after she was arrested on an unrelated charge.

Berlusconi dismissed the accusations as "groundless" when the prosecution request was filed Wednesday, saying the call for a trial was a "farce."

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There was no abuse of power, he said.

And he said he was "sorry because these (allegations) have offended the dignity of the country. They've thrown mud on the government, on the country and on myself at an international level."

Thousands of Italians took to the streets across the country Sunday to protest Berlusconi's alleged behavior toward women.

The largest gathering was in Rome, where organizers said 100,000 people gathered, under the slogan, "If not now, when?"

In Milan, organizers estimated that 60,000 people gathered.

Protests also took place outside Italy, including marches in Tokyo and Geneva, Switzerland.

Sunday's demonstrations were the biggest anti-Berlusconi rallies since the most recent sex scandal broke.

Berlusconi has denied that he has ever paid anyone for sex.

The protests were organized by women's groups and publicized by internet. The turnout surprised the organizers, who didn't want the demonstrations to be political, though that's what they became.

One woman who came with her family to the Milan rally told CNN that she was "fed up with the way women are portrayed as objects in the Italian media. The way that young girls are glorified by their looks and youth and then what? I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking that that is the only way to be ... that the only thing that matters is to be pretty and show off their legs. ... We are more than that."

In Milan, demonstrators had banners that said, "Stop the merchandising of women," and "Berlusconi enough. You bring us shame."

Many of the speakers at the Milan rally criticized the way Berlusconi's sex scandal made Italy look, his behavior towards women and his promoting ex-show girls to high government positions.

Protesters said leaked evidence from the investigation show he has little respect for female dignity, the state-run ANSA news agency reported.

Wiretaps published in the media suggest he surrounded himself at parties at his home with starlets and other women hoping to use their looks to gain positions in politics or at Berlusconi's Mediaset TV empire, ANSA reported.

The investigation began in December, after Berlusconi called police in May, urging them to release El Mahrough, nicknamed Ruby, from jail, where she was being held on theft charges.

Prosecutors say the activity took place from February until May 2010. Both El Mahrough, now 18, and Berlusconi have denied they ever had sex.

El Mahrough said she did not know Berlusconi well but that she did receive 7,000 euros (about $9,300) from him the first time they met, on Valentine's Day 2010, because a friend told Berlusconi she needed help.

The young woman's former roommate told investigators that El Mahrough confided to her that she did have a sexual relationship with the premier.

Berlusconi's party argued that he believed that Ruby was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's niece and the phone call to the police station on her behalf was done to avoid a possible diplomatic crisis with Egypt.

The lower house of Italy's Parliament voted against allowing Milan prosecutors to search property belonging to Berlusconi as part of the investigation.

CNN's Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

 
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