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Italy’s Berlusconi ordered to stand trial on sex charges

An Italian judge has ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of paying an underage girl for sex and abuse of office, although there seemed no immediate risk the scandal would force him out.

An Italian judge has ordered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of paying an underage girl for sex and abuse of office, although there seemed no immediate risk the scandal would force him out.

Following weeks of scandal that have shaken his struggling center-right government, trial was set yesterday to start in a criminal court in Milan on April 6, according to a statement from the office of the city's chief judge.

Berlusconi is not obliged to appear in person before the panel of three judges on that day, nor is there any legal obstacle to his continuing to hold office throughout any trial proceedings, which could take years before any conviction.

Throughout several other legal cases, the 74-year-old premier has kept the loyalty of lieutenants in his own party, which he set up after making his fortune in business. There has been no open push from his own allies for him to stand down.

“We did not expect anything different,” Piero Longo, one of Berlusconi's lawyers who sits in parliament for the ruling PDL party, told reporters after the decision was announced.

Yet the decision is perhaps the most serious political blow so far to Berlusconi, who has faced mounting public criticism as he tries to shore up a precarious majority in parliament.

 
 
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