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As Italy prepares to host G-8 summit, Berlusconi mired in personal scandal

In the midst of an economic crisis, Italy seem more occupied with the prime minister's alleged affair with a teenager than the July summit.

By Staff writer / May 28, 2009

PARIS – Ahead of the July G-8 summit in Italy, what Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Italian officials are most concerned about is an ongoing story about the premier’s infatuation with 18-year-old Noemi Letizia.

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Mr. Berlusconi's flings with dancers, show girls, and models are well known – but never took a serious political toll. Now, the uproar over Ms. Letizia has the billionaire premier on the defensive.

Fallout over the affair may be measured in European elections in June. But a G-8 summit held in the midst of a snap, crackle, and pop over what the Italian media has called “Noemigate” would ill serve him and the meeting, an important checkpoint in the global economic crisis, according to political analysts.

The €6,000 diamond necklace

The Italian job market itself is in an ongoing state of crisis. But the hot story remains Berlusconi’s young female “friend.” Letizia turned 18 on April 26 – something Berlusconi, 72, doubtless knows, since he attended her birthday party and gave her a €6,000 (about $8,382) gold and diamond necklace, sparking questions about him and her. (Read the Monitor's previous coverage of the issue here.)

Thursday Berlusconi took a new tack – issuing a statement saying that he's previously clarified there was nothing wrong with the relationship. If someone asked if he had a "spicy or more than spicy" relationship with a minor, his answer would be "absolutely not." He reportedly added that if he lied about the relationship, "I would have to resign a minute later."

He says that he plans to say nothing more. This is a shift from earlier vows to fully disclose the affair in Parliament.

Ten simple questions

But that was before a round of major contradictions arose over the story. Currently, 10 simple but penetrating questions for Berlusconi, assembled by the left leaning La Repubblica, remain on the table.

‏So far, Letizia’s age is about the only thing that is clear about the situation, other than the demand of the first lady of Italy, Veronica Lario, for a divorce – after the birthday party. Berlusconi has brushed off the matter as political revenge.

The Financial Times opined this week that the “danger of Berlusconi,” whose right-wing “cronies” appear better at Italian politics than the left, is not the fascism of the past – but “that of media sapping the serious content of politics, and replacing it with entertainment” and a culture of “ruthless demonization” of those wishing to question him.

In his career, the right-wing Italian media magnate-cum-premier has weathered worse. This year, he put up several showgirls as candidates for European elections, until a popular outcry forced their withdrawal.

Not the first Berlusconi scandal

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