Italian Women Demand Berlusconi's Resignation

An estimated 1 million women took to the streets of Italy on Sunday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. They denounced a political culture of sleaze in Italy and an end to Berlusconi's habit of promoting scantily dressed showgirls to fill seats in Parliament and even posts in his government.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Now to Italy, which is also seeing huge political demonstrations. This weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters demanded that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stop denigrating women.

Berlusconi has been indicted on charges involving an underage prostitute, and today he rejected calls for his resignation. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, women across Italy say the politics of sleaze must end.

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SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Rome's huge Piazza del Popolo was packed, as were surrounding streets, with women denouncing a government leader protesters say has disgraced Italy.

In speech after speech, women vented their anger over the latest sex scandal, in which Berlusconi was indicted last week on charges of paying a minor for sex, and abuse of office. Many women singled out Berlusconi's commercial TV empire, blaming it for promoting an image of women as mere sex objects for the delight of men.

Nicoletta Dentico said Italian women have been passive for far too long.

NORRIS: It took Italian society a long time to react. Maybe many of us underestimated the magnitude and the deep work that this culture - or subculture, rather, was provoking. I hope today, from the - in a way, the rubble of 20 years, we start to put together pieces and build a society where women can have a say.

POGGIOLI: Speaking to one of his TV networks today, Berlusconi blamed opposition leftists for organizing the protest, and insisted that he has always shown high respect for all women. But his standing in the polls is dropping, and within the next few days a judge is expected to rule on whether he'll have to face a fast-track trial on his latest indictment. Three more court cases on corruption charges await in the next month.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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