Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday denied ever having a "spicy" relationship with an underage girl, saying he would resign if rumours about his ties to a teenage aspiring model were true.
"I have answered the only question that anyone has the right to ask me: 'Prime minister, have you had a, let's say, spicy, or more than spicy, relationship with an underage girl?' Absolutely not," Berlusconi said.
"I swore on the heads of my children," he told reporters. "I've also said that if all this was true, I would have to resign immediately. Beware of what you read in the newspapers."
Berlusconi, 72, is under constant pressure to explain his relationship with Noemi Letizia, the 18-year-old at the centre of a highly-public row between the billionaire prime minister and his second wife Veronica Lario, who has filed for divorce.
The Italian leader has maintained that he met Letizia through her parents whom he has known for many years, while her ex-boyfriend claims Berlusconi contacted her out of the blue, and directly, only last year.
The ex-boyfriend told the left-leaning daily La Repubblica in an interview published Saturday that Letizia was among a bevy of aspiring starlets whose pictures were in a file left on Berlusconi's desk by the head of one of his TV networks.
Also on Thursday, three of Berlusconi's five children came to his defence over his links to Letizia in their first public comments on the scandal.
Opposition leader Dario Franceschini "has no right to insult Silvio Berlusconi. Who does he think he is? Doesn't he realise the seriousness of his accusations? He should be really ashamed!" Marina Berlusconi, 42, said in remarks to leading daily Corriere della Sera.
"I am indignant, furious," she said, adding: "That's enough now!"
Berlusconi's eldest daughter from his first marriage was reacting to a rhetorical question posed by Franceschini on Wednesday at a campaign rally for European Union elections to be held June 6-7 in Italy.
"Italian men and women, would you have Berlusconi raise your children?" he asked.
"To insult my father is to insult me, as a woman and mother who passes on the values I learned from my parents to my children," said Marina Berlusconi, president of Fininvest, the holding company that controls her father's vast media empire Mediaset.
Her younger brother and Mediaset vice president Pier Silvio, 40, chimed in, speaking to the ANSA news agency: "How could he say such a thing? Berlusconi's values are my values: love of work, generosity... respect for others, which Franceschini seems to forget."
For his part, the youngest offspring, 20-year-old Luigi from his marriage to Lario, asked: "How can politics judge Berlusconi as a father?"
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