Pans and condoms star in anti-Berlusconi protests

ROME Fri Feb 4, 2011 9:04am EST

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a group picture after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, January 12, 2011. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a group picture after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, January 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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ROME (Reuters) - From plans to shower Silvio Berlusconi's villa with condoms to parodies set to the soundtrack from the musical Grease, Italians are protesting the prime minister's sex scandals with a mix of outrage and humor.

Polls show Berlusconi's conservative voter base has mostly shrugged off the "Rubygate" affair in which he is accused of paying for sex with a teenage nightclub dancer.

But leftist activists and youth have been galvanized by a scandal featuring a surreal mix of showgirls, envelopes of cash and sex games.

Some of the bigger demonstrations planned include a Milan protest featuring writers Umberto Eco and Roberto Saviano and a nationwide women's rally on February 13. But countless smaller, more colorful initiatives have also sprung up on the Internet.

In one rally publicized via Facebook, protesters plan to march to Berlusconi's sumptuous villa outside Milan this weekend and throw condoms at the gates -- a twist on the hail of coins that a crowd pelted on former prime minister Bettino Craxi in 1993 when he was accused of corruption.

Another protest for February 12 calls on Italians to follow a Neapolitan tradition of banging on saucepans and pots to create an "infernal" racket loud enough, they hope, to send Berlusconi packing.

"Italy is not a republic founded on prostitution," longtime anti-Berlusconi agitators, the "Purple People", said, a play on the opening line of the country's constitution, which says: "Italy is a democratic republic founded on work".

"The idea is to march into squares in every part of Italy in a peaceful but noisy manner with pots, ladles, saucepans and lids," the group said.

Another group plans to throw underwear outside the media tycoon's villa, while a Facebook initiative urges Italians to hang banners from their balconies saying "Berlusconi go away".

Women wearing white scarves already traipsed through Milan last month, protesting Berlusconi and a culture demeaning women.

NO UPRISING

The fast-multiplying protests promise to become a headache for Berlusconi as he tries to regain political momentum and deflect attention toward plans to kick start the economy.

But the tycoon has ridden out such protests before, and analysts do not expect the latest ones to erupt into mass uprisings that force him out -- not least because for most Italians a strong family network has softened the pinch from a stagnant economy, 29 percent youth unemployment and corruption.

"We haven't really had the general population rising up against Berlusconi because people aren't going hungry like in some other countries," said pollster Luigi Crespi.

He said the protests were spurred by organized political groups rather than indignant voters and that many Italians remain skeptical of the magistrates pursuing Berlusconi.

Indeed, efforts to mobilize Italians at the grassroots level through microblogging site Twitter, which played a key role in unrest in places like Egypt and Tunisia, have been unsuccessful here. A "twitterinpiazza" initiative to get Italians into town squares against Berlusconi, for example, fizzled out quickly.

Berlusconi may also be comforted by the fact that in Italy online protests often do not translate into huge street rallies.

"What's online tends to stay online," said Marco Massarotto, an Italian Internet expert and author of "Internet PR". "We like to chat, but are less prone to get off the couch or keyboard."

Online spoofs, however, appear to be a runaway success.

One of the more popular Internet videos doing the rounds among Italians these days is "Arcore's Nights", where the "Summer Nights" hit from Grease has been dubbed over with lyrics paying homage to wild "bunga bunga" nights at Berlusconi's villa. (here) (Editing by Jon Boyle)

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