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Relationship rumors hound Berlusconi

CAMPAIGNING in Italy for the European parliament election was dominated yesterday by demands that Premier Silvio Berlusconi explain his relationship with an 18-year-old Neapolitan woman.

The calls for the 72-year-old conservative premier to explain how he came to know Noemi Letizia appeared to be set off by an interview in La Repubblica newspaper with her former boyfriend, Gino Flaminio.

Flaminio, 22, was quoted by the newspaper as saying that Letizia told him that Berlusconi invited her and other young women for a week's vacation for the New Year at one of the married media magnate's Sardinian villas, and that Letizia sometimes allowed him to overhear Berlusconi's cell phone calls to her.

The politicians demanding Berlusconi say more about the Letizia case included his chief opponent, Dario Franceschini, who took the helm of the Democratic Party earlier this year after the party suffered stinging defeats in regional voting.

"A politician must respond to questions" about his private life, Franceschini told a campaign rally in Reggio Emilia.

Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, accused Franceschini of "grabbing on to gossip to try to stop Berlusconi" and his party in next month's Euro election.

On Saturday, Berlusconi said he was "tempted" to brief Parliament about Letizia, but needed to reflect about it first.

The premier has said he knows Letizia's father through decades-old Socialist party circles and that he recently attended the young woman's 18th birthday party because he happened to be in Naples that day.


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