Thousands of Italian women protest over Berlusconi sex scandal

ROME: Thousands of women gathered on Sunday in more than 200 Italian cities to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and respect for women's rights, the daily Corriere della Sera reported.

In Rome's Piazza del Popolo, according to organizers, 500 thousand people chanted after a minute's silence "If not now when?" and "We want a country that respects women." A group of over a thousand women left the event and began to march toward Montecitorio palace. Protesters chanted slogans against the prime minister and climbed over barricades, before police sent them away from the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

In Milan, about 60 thousand people protested, including local politicians, while ten thousand gathered in Palermo's Piazza Verdi, including men and families with children.

Italian women also took to the streets abroad. In Tokyo, a group of demonstrators protested "against the degradation of politics and culture." One thousand women, but also many men and entire families, rallied in Brussels carrying banners reading "We are not for sale" and "You have to leave now." More than 150 people attended the protest outside the UN headquarters in Geneva, while in London, several hundred people gathered in Whitehall.

Local political leaders and recognized female figures in Italian society joined the protests organized by a non-partisan women's group, which argues that Berlusconi's sex scandal has debased women.

Supporters of the prime minister condemned the rallies.

"The women taking to the streets today are not very numerous and are rallying only for political ends," Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said.

The nationwide protests come after Milan prosecutors on Wednesday filed a trial request against Berlusconi in relation to the underage prostitution and abuse of power accusations.

The accusations against Berlusconi carry prison terms of three and twelve years respectively. He is accused of paying to have sex with a Moroccan belly dancer who goes by the name of Ruby who was 17 years old at the time. Both Berlusconi and Ruby (whose real name is Karima El Mahroug) denied having sex.

Berlusconi said that he will sue the Italian state in order to make the prosecutors pay for their actions. He said the accusations against him were groundless and did not bother him at all.

A judge will analyze the evidence and the trial request document and will decide whether the PM should stand trial in less than a week. If the process continues it is expected that the trial will begin in April or May.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. )

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