Italy''s indicted Berlusconi says he''s not worried

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Rome, Feb 16 (AP) Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconishowed aplomb in the face of charges that could end hispolitical career or land him in prison, saying he isn''tworried about his impending prostitution trial or calls forhis resignation.

It was the first public comment by the 74-year-oldleader since he was indicted yesterday on charges he paid forsex with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl and then used hisinfluence to cover it up.

He spoke shortly before holding talks and a workingdinner with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his firstinternational meeting since the indictment.

Berlusconi has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing theaccusations as "groundless" and the case as a "farce" and a"shame."

He has accused prosecutors of trying to topple hisgovernment. The premier today dodged questions about the caseduring a news conference on economic themes in Rome and, incontrast with recent days, did not go on the offensive todefend himself.

"Out of love of my country, I won''t talk about this,"Berlusconi told reporters. "I can only say one thing: I''m notworried at all."

Berlusconi also avoided the topic in remarks before ameeting with Medvedev, focusing instead on the close tiesbetween Russia and Italy.

"I believe that I am a point of reference for Russiawithin the European Union, and I have personally tended to allof the relations that the EU has and will develop with theRussian federation," Berlusconi said, emphasising his closepersonal friendships with Medvedev and Russian Prime MinisterVladimir Putin.

The prostitution trial starts April 6 before threefemale judges, an ironic twist for the premier. Italian womenstaged nationwide protests last week contending that thescandal and Berlusconi''s view of women is degrading to femaledignity.

The three judges were picked at random. The indictmentmarks a serious challenge to Berlusconi''s grip on power at atime when the premier is weakened by an acrimonious split withan ex-ally.

It reignited calls for Berlusconi''s resignation, withthe opposition contending the scandal, with allegations ofwild parties at the premier''s villas with scantily clad women,has embarrassed Italy and damaged its image abroad. (AP)

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