Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has tried to laugh off a growing scandal and calls for his resignation over a relationship with a teenage girl. Instead, he triggered a new uproar with an anti-gay comment.
Activists have deemed Berlusconi's joke offensive
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi brushed off a growing scandal over his relationship with a young girl on Tuesday, but drew fresh criticism for a comment about homosexuality.
"When I'm in the presence of a beautiful girl, I look at her," he said at the opening of a motorcycle industry show in Milan. "It's better to have a passion for beautiful girls than to be gay."
Gay rights activists and opposition center-left politicians condemned the remark.
Paolo Patane, president of the gay rights group Arcigay, said it was "gratuitous" and "vulgar." "It offends not only homosexual people but also women in general."
Actress Julianne Moore has also criticized Berlusconi's remarks
Actress Julianne Moore was in Rome to present the "The Kids Are All Right," a film about a lesbian couple and their teenage children, at the Rome Film Festival and reacted with dismay to Berlusconi's statement.
"I think it's unfortunate, archaic and idiotic," she said. "To hint or say that there is something wrong with homosexuality … it's unfortunate and it's embarrassing when people continue to perpetuate these untruths."
Berlusconi not budging
The most recent scandal facing Berlusconi involves reports that a teenage girl named Karima El Mahroug was paid to attend raunchy parties at his villa near Milan last year and that he later intervened and obtained her release when she was arrested for theft. El Mahroug turned 18 on Tuesday.
Despite newspaper speculation that the issue could bring down Berlusconi's government and lead to early elections, the prime minister said he and his coalition were in it for the long haul.
"You should be completely reassured about the government and about the fact that it's a government that still has a majority that intends to govern until the end of its term," he said.
Berlusconi has faced down other sex scandals by saying that while he is "no saint," he has never paid for sex. His current term of office expires in 2013.
Author: Holly Fox (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Richard Connor