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Parliament hears how Berlusconi helped detained dancer

November 9, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome, published: November 9 2010 

Silvio Berlusconi personally phoned the Milan police chief to inquire about the detention of a 17-year-old disco dancer, one of his ministers has confirmed as the latest scandal surrounding the Italian prime minister’s private life continued to plague him.

Addressing parliament, Roberto Morani, Italy’s interior minister, on Tuesday presented the government’s first official account of the events on May 27. He confirmed that the 74-year-old prime minister had asked the Milan police chief for “information” about the Moroccan teenager, saying he understood her to be related to Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt.

Mr Maroni said police had followed correct procedures in identifying Karima el Mahroug, who had been detained for suspected theft and then released into the care of Nicole Minetti, a former television showgirl who is Mr Berlusconi’s dental hygienist and now serves as a regional parliamentarian in his party.

Mr Maroni did not explain why Mr Berlusconi wrongly thought she was related to the Egyptian president.

Opposition politicians pressed their demands for Mr Berlusconi to resign over the affair. Anna Finocchiaro, senator of the centre-left Democratic party, said he was “not fit to be prime minister of a major democracy” and that he “lies, abuses the powers of his office and looks after his own interests”.

Despite mounting calls for his resignation, Mr Berlusconi shows little sign of giving way and has repeated his intention to serve out his five-year term while leading his private life as he pleases.

Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house and a former ally who has broken away to form his own centre-right party, has urged Mr Berlusconi to form a new, broader coalition with a fresh programme. Otherwise, Mr Fini warned on Sunday he would move to bring the government down.

An aide to Mr Fini said he had given a deadline of Wednesday.

In response, a government spokesman challenged Mr Fini to vote against the coalition in parliament. Political observers doubted either side would try to force snap elections, at least not before the government passes the 2011 budget with international markets watching nervously.

Meanwhile, Mr Berlusconi faced protests on a visit to the flood-hit north-east on Tuesday.

One woman held up a banner saying: “You – women and parties. We – floods and mud.”

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