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Berlusconi's lawyers want his sex trial moved Add to ...

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his power to cover it up should be moved to a special ministerial tribunal, his lawyers said on Tuesday.

Mr. Berlusconi, on an official trip to Romania and fresh from a stinging defeat in local elections, did not attend the trial's second hearing in a Milan court that his lawyers argue has no right to preside over the case.

The Prime Minister denies any wrongdoing in the case, which centres on accusations that he paid to have sex with Moroccan-born teenager Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer known by the stage name of Ruby.

He is also accused of phoning Milan police officers last May to have Ms. El Mahroug released from custody after she was detained over theft allegations.

Mr. Berlusconi says he did not have sex with the young woman. He has acknowledged making the phone call to police, in which he said she was the granddaughter of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but says he did not exert any improper influence.

The trial, the most sensational of four cases faced by Mr. Berlusconi, opened last month under huge media scrutiny, but was immediately adjourned.

In Tuesday's hearing, lawyer Niccolo Ghedini said the 74-year old Prime Minister was "clearly and undeniably convinced" that Ms. El Mahroug was a relative of Mr. Mubarak, adding that a number of witnesses could prove this.

Mr. Ghedini said that if the charges against Mr. Berlusconi were that he abused the power of his office by calling the police, he should be tried by a special tribunal for ministers and not by an ordinary court.

The Prime Minister claims that the prosecutors are politically motivated leftists bent on driving him out of power, and that he will not have a fair trial if they are allowed to press ahead with the case.

The Ruby scandal and three other corruption trials have weighed on Mr. Berlusconi's popularity, and analysts say they were a factor in his unexpected defeat in this month's local elections.

Results on Monday after run-offs were held showed his centre-right coalition losing control of his stronghold of Milan, Italy's financial capital, as well as a string of other cities.

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