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Berlusconi to go on trial for sex offenses

A judge in Italy has set a trial date for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The Premier faces charges of paying for sex with an underage girl and abuse of office. The trial has been set to begin in April.

Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi's first court date is April 6

An examining judge in Milan released a statement on Tuesday confirming that Berlusconi's first court hearing will take place on April 6.

Judge Cristina Di Censo upheld requests by magistrates in Milan to fast-track a trail against the 74-year-old prime minster. She also indicated that three female judges will preside over the trial.

In response to the announcement, Piero Longo, one of Berlusconi's lawyers and a member of parliament for the ruling PDL party, told reporters "We did not expect anything different."

Alleged liaison

Berlusconi faces allegations that he paid for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer. Revelations of the prime minister's alleged liaison with Karima El Mahroug, who uses the stage name "Ruby the Heart Stealer" came to light in November.

He is also facing charges for abuse of power after he intervened on El Mahroug's behalf when she was held by police on suspicion of theft in May.

Karima El Mahroug

Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with underage dancer 'Ruby'

Although prostitution is not illegal in Italy, paying for sex with a girl under the age of 18 could carry a three year prison sentence. If charged with abuse of power, Berlusconi could face an additional six to twelve years in prison.

The prime minister has denied paying for sex with Ruby, who only turned 18 in November 2010, but admits that he rang the police on her behalf.

He claims that he did so because he thought El Mahroug was the granddaughter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and he wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Last month, Italy's constitutional court removed the automatic immunity from trial which Berlusconi had previously enjoyed.

Will continue as Prime Minister

Laws remain, however, which dictate that Berlusconi will not have to appear in person during the trial. Nor is there any legal obstacle to him continuing to hold office throughout the proceedings, which may take years.

Berlusconi is due in court for three unrelated embezzlement and fraud trials in the coming weeks.

A series of court cases against the businessman turned politician has led to mounting public criticism in Italy.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of women across Italy demonstrated against the prime minister and the opposition has called on Berlusconi to resign.

Rocco Buttiglione, a member of the centrist UDC party, said the political situation had become "intolerable". "Berlusconi has become a symbol of national division," he said.

Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

Editor: Nicole Goebel

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