Italian women hold anti-Berlusconi demonstrations

Women braved the rain in Milan for the anti-Berlusconi rally

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Italian women have held protests nationwide and abroad against embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Thousands of protesters marched in more than 60 towns and cities nationwide.

Some women carried banners reading "Italy is not a brothel", and said Mr Berlusconi had demeaned women with his recent sex scandals.

The premier denies attending sex parties and consorting with prostitutes, labelling the claims "disgusting" and politically motivated.

Smaller protests were also held on Sunday in Brussels, Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, Lyon and Toulouse in France, and as far afield as Tokyo.

Solidarity

Last week prosecutors in Milan applied to have Mr Berlusconi put on trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage girl.

He denies paying for sex with a Moroccan nightclub dancer when she was 17, and abusing his power to get her released by police after she was detained in another case.

Anti-Berlusconi protest at the Sacre Coeur in Paris, France (13 Feb 2011) Protests have also been held in other countries, including one outside the Sacre Coeur in Paris

A magistrate will now decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

If convicted, Mr Berlusconi could face up to 15 years in prison.

Although frequenting prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with one under the age of 18 is an offence that carries a prison sentence.

Sunday's protests had a title - Se non ora, quando? (If not now, when?) - designed to express the frustration of those Italian women who are asking what it will take for Mr Berlusconi to resign, says the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome.

Protests took place across Italy, including Rome, Naples, Palermo, Bari, Trieste and Venice.

'Italy says enough'

Rome's Piazza del Popolo - or People's Square - was crammed with tens of thousands of women and some men in an act of solidarity.

Silvio Berlusconi shows his teeth during a news conference in Rome, 9 February 2011

"We are asking all women to defend the value of our dignity, and we are asking men, if not now, when?" organisers said on the protest website.

Marching through Naples, the mayor of the southern Italian city, Rosa Russo Iervolino, said: "The importance of this rally is in the common participation of men and women, young and old, intellectuals and workers."

One woman at a protest in Milan said Italian women had "become a joke to the rest of the world" because of the allegations surrounding Mr Berlusconi.

Some 400 men and women gathered outside the Sacre Coeur cathedral in Paris, banging pans and calling for Mr Berlusconi to resign, while in Madrid, protesters carried banners reading: "Italy says enough" and "My dignity is not for sale".

Despite all the recent negative publicity, Mr Berlusconi's opinion poll ratings are still at around 35%.

The billionaire prime minister also retains the support of his ruling coalition allies the Northern League, who do not want to see him quit, adds our correspondent.

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