Berlusconi trial to start April 6

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MILAN - Judges in Italy Tuesday set an April 6 date for the first hearing of a trial in which Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces charges of having sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.

Judge Cristina Di Censo also said three women judges - Carmen D’Elia, Orsolina De CRistofaro and Giulia Turri are to preside the trial.

The charges stem from revelations on Berlusconi’s alleged liaison with a 17-year-old Moroccan go-go dancer, Karima El Mahroug, which first emerged in November.

Last week, prosecutors in Milan formally requested a fast-track trial for Berlusconi, after submitting evidence - garnered mostly from wire tappings - that they say proves Berlusconi paid El Mahroug, who uses the stage name Ruby Rubacuori (stealer of hearts), for sex.

The prosecutors also accuse the 74-year-old Berlusconi of abuse of power stemming from his admission that he intervened on El Mahroug’s behalf when she was held briefly by police on suspicion of theft in May.

Berlusconi reportedly told police to release El Mahroug by claiming she was the niece of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The embattled media-magnate-turned politician denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to see out his term, which expires in 2013, despite growing demands for his resignation.

On Sunday, more than one million people turned out in squares across Italy to protest Berlusconi’s alleged sex antics.

The pressure on Berlusconi comes amid dissent within his conservative coalition and criticism from the Catholic Church.

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