Italy premier probed for sex with teen

ROME - Prosecutors are investigating whether Premier Silvio Berlusconi paid for sex with an underage girl from Morocco and then abused his power in trying to cover up the encounters, officials said yesterday.

Berlusconi dismissed the case as "absurd" and said the prosecutors were just jealous they weren't invited to his home for dinner too. The teenager has said she dined at the premier's Milan estate but didn't have sex with him.

The allegations come at a moment of particular vulnerability for the blunt-speaking, high-living prime minister. Berlusconi has been politically weakened in recent months by a challenge from an-ex ally, while a law shielding him from two unrelated trials in Milan was significantly watered down Thursday by a ruling of Italy's Constitutional Court.

Still, Italians have proven hard to shock, and Berlusconi inspires both loyalty and fierce opposition. A citizen group called yesterday for his resignation but his supporters immediately dismissed the allegations as a baseless, politically driven attack.

According to a statement by Milan prosecutors, the probe is looking into whether the 74-year-old premier had sex with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby, and then used the powers of his office inappropriately in trying to hide the encounter.

The prosecutors issued a summons yesterday for Berlusconi and his lawyers to appear for questioning, the statement said. They also ordered Milan police to search the offices of various people implicated in the case, including a showgirl-turned-politician who is close to the premier.

No date was given, but the ANSA news agency said the questioning might take place next week.