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Berlusconi's approval rating dribbles below 50%

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's approval rating has slipped below 50 percent after a scandal about prostitutes and news that his wife was divorcing him because of his relationship with a teenage girl from Naples.

Berlusconi's credibility is under attack just when he is about to host a summit of Group of Eight leaders, and has had to spend his time defending his private life and denying he paid for sex.

The 72-year-old media tycoon had an approval rating of 49.1 percent in a new opinion poll prepared for Corriere della Sera newspaper published yesterday.

The pollsters compared that to his average of 51 percent for the first five months of 2009.

That is way under the 61 percent support that Berlusconi himself said last week that he enjoys, citing his own private polls.

But even that would be a sharp drop from the 75 percent popularity rating Berlusconi had claimed before the scandals.

"The fact remains that, despite everything, Berlusconi still enjoys the trust of roughly half of Italian people," political analyst Renato Mannheimer said in comments accompanying the poll in Corriere della Sera.

The scandal erupted in May when Berlusconi's wife said she was filing for divorce because he promoted pretty young women in politics and befriended an 18-year-old girl.

The scandal snowballed with photos of parties at his Sardinian villa showing scantily clad women, then peaked when an escort said she and others had been paid to attend his parties and that she had slept with him.

The premier, who has not denied the woman went to his home, says he did not know she was a prostitute. He calls it all a "subversive attack" organized by the leftist media.

The poll showed a sharp fall in support among women and young people, but especially among practising Catholics, where his approval dropped to 54 percent from 61 percent.

But Mannheimer said that Berlusconi's support was still relatively high because he acted decisively on issues such as the Naples rubbish crisis and the recession.


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