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Start of Berlusconi trial in Milan lasts only minutes

04-07-2011 09:29 BJT

MILAN, Italy, April 6 (Xinhua) -- The trial of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on charges of sex with a minor and abuse of power opened here Wednesday.

Neither Berlusconi nor the minor, dancer and teenage prostitute Karima el Mahrough, best known by her stage name "Ruby", attended the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes and was adjourned until May 31.

One of Berlusconi's lawyers, Giorgio Perroni, presented the court with a letter in which the premier said he would like to participate but was unable to because of "institutional commitments".

Security measures were tight around the courthouse in Milan, with about 100 police surrounding the building to prevent riots between groups of supporters and opponents of the premier gathered on a traffic island opposite the building.

More than 100 journalists from around the world requested accreditation for the trial, while TV crews, barred from the hearing, were setting up camp outside the courthouse.

The 74-year-old Italian premier is accused of paying for sex with Moroccan-born el Mahrough from February to May 2010 when she was 17 years old, and then abusing his power in trying to cover it up.

Both Berlusconi and el Mahrough, who is now 18, have denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Lawyers for the girl and the three police officers allegedly urged by Berlusconi to release her following a theft complaint did not sue for damages against the prime minister on Wednesday.

After the brief hearing, el Mahrough's lawyer, Paula Boccardi, told reporters that demanding damages would be essentially admitting that her client was a prostitute, which she denies.

A women's rights group called "Arcidonna" announced it would separately file a civil suit against Berlusconi, accusing him of offending women over a period of 25 years.

By coincidence, all three judges and the main prosecutor in the case are women.

More than 150 people have been called as witnesses in the trial, including Hollywood star George Clooney, his Italian girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

"I am here to represent the discontent of Italians. Berlusconi is not ruling, but commanding the country due to his money and power. People are fed up with him," a retired teacher named Rosa Lazzaro told Xinhua. "Italy deserves a better example for its young generations," she added.

A 28-year-old man, Simone Piacelli, representing a group of young Italians, said Berlusconi's government had done important steps to help new generations.

"The premier's opponents have recently said he has no time to rule the country as he is too busy with his trials, but it is the (political) opposition parties who persecute him with all kinds of allegations," he said.

Since his first term as prime minister began in 1994, Berlusconi has faced at least 17 official criminal and civil allegations.

He is currently involved in four trials. After appearing in court for the first time in eight years for a tax fraud case last week, Berlusconi said he planned to attend the next hearings barring engagements stemming from his official duty.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: Xinhua

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