ROME – Campaigning in Italy for the European parliament election was dominated on Sunday 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 left-leaning Rome daily as saying that Letizia told him that Berlusconi invited her and other young women for a week's vacation at New Year's 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 center-left party suffered stinging defeats at the hands of the premier's forces in Italian 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.
Berlusconi is betting that his new Freedom People's party will score big in the election. He boasts a comfortable majority in Italy's Parliament since his election a year ago.
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.
"In the United States, there would be a commission of inquiry to see if the premier has lied," said Emma Bonino, a leader of the Radicals, a maverick party outside both Berlusconi's conservative coalition and the center-left opposition.
A few weeks ago, Berlusconi's wife, Veronica Lario, 52, criticized her husband's attendance at the birthday bash and said she wants a divorce because of his constant flirtations with young women.
Berlusconi has denounced as a "lie" insinuations that he had a relationship with Letizia.
Also demanding on the campaign trail that Berlusconi respond to the ex-boyfriend's allegations was another top Democratic Party leader, Enrico Letta. If the details in La Repubblica's interview are true, "it would be disgusting," the Italian news agency Apcom quoted Letta as saying. He is the nephew of Berlusconi's top aide, Gianni Letta.
Letizia's mother, Anna Palumbo, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying she had no comment on the interview in La Repubblica, which for decades has been a fierce critic of Berlusconi.
Letizia's father, Benedetto Elio Letizia, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as denouncing, through his lawyer, Flaminio's account as "seriously defamatory since it attributes to (Noemi) things never done, said, or thought" by her.