Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of suffering from an "uncontrollable sickness" in his relations with women, as the Moroccan teenage belly dancer at the heart of Italy's latest sex scandal said she is writing a book about the affair.
The Italian prime minister has been accused of personally intervening to have 17-year-old Karima Keyek released from police custody when she was arrested in May on suspicion of stealing cash and valuables from a female acquaintance in Milan.
An influential Catholic magazine, La Famiglia Cristiana (The Christian Family) said Mr Berlusconi's obsession with beautiful young women and playboy lifestyle was symptomatic of "a disease, something uncontrollable".
"It is incredible that a man in such a position does not have the necessary self-control," wrote the magazine, which is sold in Italian churches every Sunday.
Veronica Lario, Mr Berlusconi's estranged wife and the mother of three of his five children, last year said she believed that he was "unwell", accusing him of "consorting with minors" and announcing that she wanted a divorce after 20 years of marriage.
The magazine said that the scandal, dubbed "Rubygate", was damaging the "credibility and dignity" of the billionaire prime minister and raising questions about his suitability to lead the country.
Mr Berlusconi, 74, has not denied that he knows Miss Keyek, or that he invited her to his parties.
The country's main business newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, said he needed to assure the country that he still had the ability to "exercise his institutional role with the necessary serenity and efficiency."
As the scandal deepened, Corriere della Sera claimed in a front page story that the prime minister personally ordered police officers in Milan to release Miss Keyek from custody and not to press charges against her over the theft allegations.
The newspaper repeated claims that Mr Berlusconi told officers that Miss Keyek, who was also known by her stage name of Ruby, was the "grand-daughter" of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
The prime minister had reportedly been alerted to the fact that she was in trouble by a Brazilian model to whom he had given his mobile phone number some months previously.
"He gave it to me, saying that I should use it in the event of an emergency," the model, who was not named, told Corriere della Sera. "He gives his personal number to people he knows well."
Miss Keyek was now creating "an ocean of problems" for Mr Berlusconi, the model said.
The teenager revealed that she received 7,000 euros after attending a dinner party thrown by the prime minister at his private villa outside Milan.
The daughter of Moroccan immigrants, she is believed not to have a residence permit entitling her to live in Italy. She reportedly told Mr Berlusconi that her ambitions were to gain Italian citizenship and to join the Carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police force.
She said Mr Berlusconi had originally thought she was in her 20s and that when she revealed she was only 17, he told her that he had had "problems over under-age girls in the past" and that he could no longer have any contact with her.
The prime minister was engulfed in scandal last year when it was revealed that he had attended the 18th birthday party of an underwear model, Noemi Letizia, who calls him 'Papi' or Daddy.
Miss Keyek revealed that she had come close to working as an escort girl, in an interview to be published on Wednesday in a weekly magazine, Oggi. She said she had once received 1,000 euros from a Chinese businessman to go to a hotel with him, but did not have sex.
She said she was pregnant by a boyfriend when she attended the dinner at Mr Berlusconi's residence earlier this year, but later had an abortion.
The aspiring model and showgirl, who turns 18 in November, said she would tell her story in a book. "I've nearly finished it. There will be a chapter on Berlusconi."
She has said she only met him once, and denied having sex with him. "I can only admire and speak well of him, thanks to him I didn't end up on the streets or in indecent jobs," she said in a television interview. "I would tell him 'Thanks from my heart, you're a gentleman, shame that people don't know who you really are.'"
Opposition parties said Mr Berlusconi needed to explain exactly how he had intervened with the police in order to help the teenager. They also said that his friendships with young starlets and models exposed him to blackmail and that he should immediately resign.
"We are not interested in his private life, we are interested in his public life," Pierluigi Bersani, head of the centre-left Democratic Party said in a statement. We want to know what happened between the prime minister's office and the Milan police."
Mr Berlusconi's approval ratings have fallen to their lowest level since he was elected in May 2008.
His popularity has been hit by high unemployment, an ailing economy and months of infighting between his coalition allies.
The latest scandal has added a new word to Italians' vocabulary - "bunga-bunga". Miss Keyek reportedly told investigators that she witnessed "erotic rituals" and sex sessions at the dinners she attended, which the prime minister and his friends referred to jokingly as "bunga-bunga" parties.
The phrase comes from the punchline to one of his favourite jokes, a politically incorrect story involving a pair of his political enemies and the sexual practices of a tribe of African cannibals.
Mr Berlusconi has dismissed the allegations against him as a "Leftist attack". He has insisted that he has nothing to apologise for. "In my house I allow only good people and above all, people who behave themselves," he said.
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