Italians fed up with Berlusconi rally in Rome

AP News
Posted: Dec 05, 2009 2:03 PM

Tens of thousands of Italians fed up with Silvio Berlusconi marched peacefully through Rome on Saturday to demand the resignation of the scandal-plagued premier.

Organizers called the grass-roots protest "No B Day," with the "B" standing for Berlusconi, the billionaire businessman and conservative leader now in his third term as premier.

Several political opposition leaders said they stayed away to keep the protest a citizens' one, not a partisan event. Organizers hoped for a turnout of 300,000 people. Rome police estimated the crowd at 90,000 _ many of them chanting "resignation, resignation!"

Berlusconi's allies shrugged off the event.

About "350,000 in the streets? Even if that's true, it would mean that more than 59.5 million Italians are favorable to the government," said a Cabinet minister, Roberto Calderoli, referring to Italy's overall population of some 60 million.

Demonstrators expressed dismay over what they see as the businessman's conflict of interests, citing repeated government-backed laws they contend were tailored made to help shield Berlusconi from prosecution in cases involving his media, real estate and sports empire. Berlusconi claims the laws benefit all citizens.

Other marchers cited Berlusconi's sex scandals. Berlusconi's wife is divorcing him after complaining about his infatuation with young women. A southern Italian businessman has told investigators he procured some 30 attractive young women for parties and dinners at the premier's Rome residence and Sardinian villa.

Among the guests was a high-end prostitute who claimed she slept with Berlusconi. The premier has denied ever paying for sex.

"I am here because I think Berlusconi ought to resign," said Ilaria Rossi, a high school student from Rome. "At this point, it has become improper that he is premier."

Mich Bastiano, a gardener who came from the northern city of Brescia to join the march, cited several probes against Berlusconi stemming from his business dealings. "People under investigation shouldn't be in government," Bastiano said.

He suggested that Berlusconi was elected last year to a third term despite the probes because thanks to his media empire he "brainwashed" voters.

Berlusconi has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and blames his judicial woes on prosecutors he claims sympathize with the opposition left. Several of the cases either ended in acquittal or were dropped when limitation statutes expired.


Associated Press reporter Corinne Gretler contributed to this report.