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Berlusconi trades insults on TV

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi rang a TV show discussing an alleged prostitution scandal, exchanged insults with the host and said the programme was like a "brothel".

His supporters have said that the premier had a right to defend himself from accusations made during the show.

Mr Berlusconi said the show was "disgusting" and that it was being conducted in a "despicable, vile and repugnant" way. He urged a political ally in the studio to leave the "incredible TV brothel".

The talk show host, left-leaning journalist Gad Lerner, invited Mr Berlusconi to tone down his comments and at one point called him a "lout" when Mr Berlusconi made a swipe against the female guests on the show.

"Why don't you go before the magistrates instead of insulting people?" Mr Lerner asked the premier.

Mr Berlusconi has refused to heed a summons by Milan prosecutors, who have placed him under investigation on suspicion he paid for sex with a 17-year-old girl and used his office to cover it up.

The 74-year-old premier has denied wrongdoing, saying he never paid for sex. He has insisted - as he has in the face of previous legal woes - that he is the victim of politically driven magistrates who want to oust him from power.

The show was broadcast on LA 7, a private station that is one of the few national channels over which Mr Berlusconi, a media tycoon, has no control.

The premier has insisted that parties at his villas are elegant and dignified affairs, and not the 'bacchanalia' described by Italian newspapers, which have reported dancing topless girls and orgies.

The premier's lawyers are believed to have put together their defence documents and left them with Milan prosecutors.

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