Europe

Berlusconi scandal: Vienna ball for belly-dancer Ruby

Karima el-Mahroug and Richard Lugner dance at the Opera Ball in Vienna, Austria - 3 March 2011
Image caption Belle of the ball - Ruby and her host Richard Lugner take to the dancefloor

The teenager at the centre of a sex scandal involving Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has made a stir in Austria as the guest of a local millionaire.

Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name Ruby, has attended the famous Vienna Opera Ball at the invitation of Richard Lugner.

The young Moroccan woman admitted she could not actually waltz, adding: "I can only belly dance."

Mr Lugner's choice of partner outraged some, including the ball's organiser.

The 18-year-old's invitation to the ball gripped some Austrian newspapers, relegating the revolt in Libya and other top news events to the back pages.

'Biggest embarrassment'

However, state TV's head of programming, Wolfgang Lorenz, reportedly ordered journalists covering the ball to avoid mentioning her at all costs, sparking protests from staff who see Ruby as the biggest news of the event.

She arrived with Mr Lugner, a 78-year-old construction magnate, and his other guest, former Dallas star Larry Hagman.

The Opera Ball, with its batch of waltzing debutantes and boxes full of politicians and industrialists, is the highlight of Austria's annual ball season, watched on TV by millions from home.

One other non-Austrian celebrity planning to attend was Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who became the driving force behind Band Aid and Live Aid, and continues to campaign against world hunger.

"As I am in Vienna, I should waltz - it is like going up the Eiffel Tower when you are in Paris," he told Austrian media, adding that he did not think he would get a chance to take to the floor with Ruby.

"Her dance card will definitely already be very full this evening," he said.

Mr Berlusconi is due to go on trial next month on the charge of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.

Ruby, who was 17 when the alleged offence took place, denies having sex with the Italian prime minister.

Image caption The ball is one of Vienna's top social events

Appearing before reporters in Vienna on Wednesday, she said: "I hope that people will be able to react to me as they find me and not as 'scandal' Ruby."

On the ball, she added: "I can only belly-dance, I can't waltz but I will try and dance with the others - you can learn a lot that way."

Mr Lugner's past guests include socialite Paris Hilton and burlesque dancer Dita von Teese.

He has risked the wrath of the Austrian establishment with his decision.

Opera Ball organiser Desiree Treichl-Stuergkh said it was "the biggest embarrassment Mr Lugner has ever created".

As someone "involved in ongoing legal proceedings against Berlusconi", Ruby was persona non grata, she added.

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