Writers, intellectuals and a former president of the constitutional court rallied in Milan on Saturday against scandal-hit Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accusing him of wrecking Italy's international reputation.
Some 9,000 people packed a concert hall on the outskirts of Milan and hundreds more watched on video screens outside as authors Roberto Saviano and Umberto Eco laid into Berlusconi, 74, who has been engulfed by a sex scandal.
"There is an Italy that has the right and the duty to make itself seen and to raise its voice, an Italy that believes in rules and legality," said Saviano, whose novel "Gomorra", about the Naples mafia, won him international fame.
He called on Italy to rebel against "a premier who, suffering from a senile sexual obsession, pays under-aged girls, lies to the state and runs from the courts".
Berlusconi has remained defiant in the face of his latest legal troubles, with judges set to request he stand trial in a case involving a dancer known as "Ruby the Heart-Stealer".
The inquiry into Berlusconi's alleged liaisons with prostitutes -- denied by the prime minister -- was first reported last month and has dominated Italian newspapers since then.
Berlusconi's critics have multiplied their calls for him to leave office and have organised a series of demonstrations including the one in Milan and in Florence, where some 3,000 gathered to defend women's dignity and protest against his behaviour.
Growing numbers of protests are springing up around Italy, often organised spontaneously on the Internet.
Around 3,000 people marched through Florence on Saturday banging pots and pans and carrying placards reading, "Italy is not a brothel" and "Hands off our dignity".
At the rally in Milan, Berlusconi's home city and electoral heartland, author and philosopher Eco, best known for his 1980 book The Name of the Rose, said it was a duty to oppose Berlusconi, saying too few had opposed Mussolini under Fascism.
"We are here to defend the honour of Italy," he said.
Prominent television journalist Gad Lerner said Italy had become "an absolute anomaly" and in any normal democracy "the prime minister would have resigned long ago after committing the acts Berlusconi has committed".
For weeks Italian newspapers have featured extracts of prosecutors' evidence, mainly intercepted phone conversations among young women they say received cash, jewelry and, in some cases, free housing from the billionaire media tycoon.
Another protest is planned on Sunday outside Berlusconi's sumptuous villa near Milan where prosecutors say his parties took place featuring sex games with young women paid to attend. The organisers say protesters will throw condoms at the villa.
AgenciesLast Mod: 06 Şubat 2011, 16:24