Silvio Berlusconi: Ruby sex trial 'does not worry me'

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Karima el Mahroug (file pic)
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Mr Berlusconi and Karima El Mahroug each deny any sexual relationship

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he is not worried about standing trial charged with paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.

He has also been indicted on a charge of abuse of power related to the same girl, Karima El Mahroug, known as Ruby.

In his first public comment on the issue since a judge ordered him to stand trial on 6 April, the PM said: "I am not worried in the least."

Mr Berlusconi denies paying for sex with Ms Mahroug, when she was aged 17.

Although frequenting prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with one under the age of 18 is an offence punishable by a prison sentence.

Mr Berlusconi also rejects allegations that he abused his power by seeking Ms Mahroug's release when she was detained in another case.

He has said the accusations are politically motivated.

"For love of country I won't talk about it," Mr Belusconi said at the end of a news conference that mainly addressed economic issues.

"Suffice it to say that I am not worried in the least."

'No early election'

Mr Berlusconi's fast-track trial in front of three female judges will start at a court in Milan at 0930 on Wednesday 6 April, examining judge Cristina Di Censo ordered on Tuesday.

If convicted, the prime minister could face up to 15 years in prison.

These are some of the most serious allegations Mr Berlusconi has faced during his long career, says the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome.

He also faces three other court cases related to financial dealings, but this is the first time he will face trial over his personal conduct.

Ms Mahroug, now aged 18, has denied sleeping with the prime minister but has said she received 7,000 euros (£5,900, $9,400) from him as a gift after one of his parties.

Regarding the abuse of power charge, Mr Berlusconi admits calling the police while Ms Mahroug was being held on suspicion of theft.

But he said he was doing a favour for the then-Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, because Mr Berlusconi had been told the girl was Mr Mubarak's granddaughter; she is not.

Mr Berlusconi's governing coalition has been looking increasingly shaky but on Wednesday he dismissed talk of an early election.

He said he would see out his term until elections scheduled for 2013.