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Fury over Berlusconi's gay 'insult'

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed calls to resign over his involvement with a runaway under-age Moroccan girl and created new uproar by claiming it was better to love beautiful girls than gays.

His comments sparked outrage from gay rights groups and fuelled new calls for him to step down.

Opposition politicians claim Mr Berlusconi abused his office by calling police in May when the then-17-year-old Moroccan nicknamed Ruby was detained for alleged theft.

Newspapers have reported that Mr Berlusconi told police a local party official would take custody of the girl, who had visited Mr Berlusconi's Milan villa at least once.

Even centre-right commentators in Mr Berlusconi's family-owned newspapers have criticised him for intervening in a possible criminal case. Mr Berlusconi's now-estranged ally, Gianfranco Fini, said his antics had embarrassed the country.

But Mr Berlusconi again defended his lifestyle and fondness for young women, telling a trade fair in Milan it was "better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay."

Gay rights group Arcigay demanded an apology.

The premier's comments "represent a dangerous incitement to prejudice and helps legitimise discrimination, injustice and suffering," Arcigay president Paolo Pantane told Mr Berlusconi's minister for equal opportunity, Mara Carfagna.

In response she defended Mr Berlusconi's record on anti-discrimination measures and said he had just been joking.

"(He) absolutely never intended to offend women or homosexuals," she said.

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