ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Friday he had “nothing to apologise for” over the sex scandals surrounding him and did not fear blackmail, while boasting his support among Italians was at record highs.
The 72-year-old, whose reputation has been battered by often explicit disclosures about his womanising and parties with prostitutes, called people who spread such stories “anti-Italians who should be ashamed of themselves”.
There was no sign of remorse in Berlusconi’s pre-vacation news conference to present the successes of his first 14 months in office. He spared no praise for his role on the diplomatic stage, saying at one point he had shown a “touch of genius”.
“Nobody can blackmail me and I have no skeletons in the closet. I have nothing to apologise for in my private life, not even to my family,” he told reporters.
Berlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario said in May she wanted a divorce over his relationship with a teenage girl from Naples who got a 6,000-euro necklace from him for her birthday.
That disclosure was soon superseded by stories of escorts spending the night at Berlusconi’s home and reports of intimate conversations secretly taped by one woman, Patrizia D’Addario, who was promised a European Parliament seat.
Berlusconi, whose flirtatious ways had previously earned him public reprimands from his wife, has denied ever paying for sex.
“I ADORE WOMEN”
Berlusconi has acknowledged he is “no saint” but on Friday denied accusations of chauvinism, fuelled by his sexist jokes and preference for pretty young women for political posts, such as former topless model Mara Carfagna as his equality minister.
“The foreign press has written that I hate women,” he said. “If there is one thing I adore, it is women.”
He says left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica is waging a media campaign against him and, in the news conference, accused state broadcaster RAI -- over which he has political control -- of being biased against him.
Berlusconi, now in his third term as prime minister, is also the owner of Italy’s largest private broadcaster, Mediaset.
But while the scandals have earned Berlusconi reprimands by the Roman Catholic church and, according to some opinion polls, cost him support among practising Catholics, women and younger voters, his leadership still looks resilient.
“Support for the prime minister now stands at 68.2 percent which is an absolute record for Western democracies,” Berlusconi said, citing his own privately commissioned opinion polls.
“Italians have shown they appreciate the work of the prime minister and his government and this is a strong government that will last for the next four years.”
The latest polls published in the media put his support at 49 percent, with favourable reviews for his decisive response to the April earthquake in Abruzzo eroded by the scandals.
His ruling centre right scored clear wins in European and local elections in early June and the government, with its solid majority in parliament, continues to push legislation through parliament past the weak centre-left opposition.
But senior opposition senator Anna Finocchiaro said it was “a sad spectacle” to see the prime minister “telling us again that his government is the best and everything is fine” while Italy is mired in its worst recession in the post-war period.
Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Gavin Jones
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