ROME Nov 7 — Premier Silvio Berlusconi has scrapped a planned appearance at a conference on family values next week in Milan, amid reports of encounters with a prostitute and his ties to an underage Moroccan girl.
Some attendees had recently expressed unease over Berlusconi’s presence at the conference, which begins Monday and gathers family associations, Cabinet ministers and members of the Roman Catholic Church, including the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi.
A statement from Berlusconi’s office said the Cabinet undersecretary in charge of family policies, Carlo Giovanardi, would open the conference on behalf of the government.
The decision was made to avoid expected protests against Berlusconi and to keep the event focused on family policies, Giovanardi said. But even some of Berlusconi’s allies — part of a conservative coalition that champions traditional family values — were relieved at a decision that spared them a potential embarrassment.
The 74-year-old Italian leader has been engulfed in a scandal over his ties to a Moroccan girl nicknamed Ruby, whom he helped free from police custody months ago.
The girl, who turned 18 just days ago, said she visited Berlusconi’s villa on at least one occasion, though she said she never had sex with the premier. Some have alleged that Berlusconi’s intervention with police to free her could be considered an abuse of power.
New allegations of sex with a prostitute have also surfaced this week.
Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing, denouncing what he called a campaign of “lies” and “unfounded attacks.” He said he helped Ruby out of the goodness of his heart.
But as the revelations filled the pages of newspapers for days, the controversy over Berlusconi’s presence at the family conference mounted.
“This presence embarrasses us,” Francesco Belletti, who heads a family association, told the ANSA news agency earlier this week.
Tettamanzi, the Milan archbishop, denounced the “deterioration of customs” and said that “when one has particular responsibilities ... the public and the private coincide.”
Famiglia Cristiana, an influential Catholic magazine that is distributed in parishes across Italy, wrote a strongly worded editorial on Oct. 29 saying that Berlusconi appeared to be affected by a pathology — “a state of illness, something uncontrollable, all the more so because it is made possible and in fact encouraged by his power and the immense wealth at his disposal.”
It said Berlusconi sets a bad example for citizens “who cannot even dream of transgression and parties.”
The premier has made no apologies for his lifestyle, saying “I love life, I love women!”- AP