Berlusconi resists calls to resign for party name gaffe

ITALIAN Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dismissed opposition calls for his resignation yesterday after yet another vulgar gaffe stirred up a mix of outrage and weary exasperation.

Berlusconi — under pressure over a variety of corruption and sex scandals and facing criticism over his centre-right government’s erratic handling of the economic crisis — accused the left-wing opposition of “obsessively” seeking to drive him from office.

Mr Berlusconi joked that he could revive his People of Freedom (PDL) party’s flagging popularity by changing its name to a slang Italian word for female genitalia.

“It is a demand I consider absurd, which would only create instability and open up new room for financial speculation,” he said of the resignation demands.

“We have the numbers to reach the end of our term, as the constitution provides. And we will go ahead and complete our reform program,” he said, adding that he would remain in office even though it represented a “personal sacrifice”.

Berlusconi’s comments came as opposition parties lambasted the premier over his latest verbal excess.

The remark, to a group of party deputies in parliament on Thursday, drew criticism from the opposition which said it underlined Berlusconi’s contempt for women.

“His misogynist jokes are offensive to women, who are considered less and less as people and ever more as ‘goods’ to be sold to the highest bidder,” Senator Giuliano Carlino said.

Berlusconi has come under attack as the financial crisis and growing divisions in his centre-right coalition fuel speculation his government will collapse before the end of its term in 2013.

This week’s downgrade of Italy’s sovereign debt rating by Moody’s underlined market concern over the stability of its public finances and its chronically weak growth.

A €60 billion austerity package was passed last month after weeks of delay while the timetable for a decree to approve the sale of state assets has also slipped to October 20. So far, his majority has held up in repeated confidence votes but there has been mounting speculation of a PDL revolt.

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