ROME An Italian woman has demanded an apology from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after he crudely joked with her on stage about sex, days before a national election.
Angela Bruno, a 30-year-old employee of renewable energy firm Gruppo Green Power, said in an interview on the La7 Channel that her 13-year-old daughter had cried for days after seeing a video of the encounter at a business event, and the response it provoked.
"I want an apology for all Italian women because they should not have to suffer insults like this, at work or outside work," she said. "This is the Italy I don't want anymore and I hope no one wants."
The 76-year-old media tycoon, who is on trial for sex with an underage prostitute, stepped down as prime minister in November 2011 at the height of the euro zone debt crisis, but is now seeking a fifth term in government in the February 24-25 vote.
Bruno was presenting a contract to Berlusconi at a recent ceremony when the former prime minister asked her suggestive questions in front of senior colleagues, staff and members of the public.
"Do you come?...only once?...how many times do you come?...with what sort of time intervals?," he asked her with a smirk on his face. At the time she went along with the banter giggling nervously as the audience roared with laughter.
"It sounds altogether like a good proposal," he continued. He then asked her to turn around, took a look at her bottom and said, "Yes, it is a convincing offer", prompting a round of applause and more laughter from men and women in the audience.
A video of the exchange has been viewed more than 950,000 times on YouTube and has sparked outrage on social networks, reviving memories of the ire Berlusconi's chauvinistic behavior provoked during his last term in government. (here)
Roughly two years ago, more than a million Italians joined street rallies in protest against his treatment of women while serving as prime minister, after details of the "Bunga Bunga" sex parties at his Milan villa began to emerge.
Bruno told Italian television on Monday evening that she had tried to keep the conversation on a professional level but had been too intimidated to reprimand Berlusconi in public due to his position of power and the presence of senior staff.
In the interview, the married mother-of-one said she had been offended and embarrassed and demanded the apology.
"He may think he is joking but he has to be a serious person if he wants to represent Italy. He can't get away with presenting an image like this," Bruno said.
Berlusconi did apologize in an interview on Radio 105 on Tuesday, but also said that Bruno had seemed to enjoy herself at the time. He urged her to stop reading leftwing newspapers, which he said had exaggerated the seriousness of the exchange.
Italy's female employment rate, at 46.5 percent, is the lowest in the European Union after Malta and Greece, according to EU data. Italy ranks 80th in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, mainly due to women's limited economic participation.
(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; Editing by Michael Roddy)