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Here come the girls... party revolt over Berlusconi's election line-up

Silvio Berlusconi is facing a party revolt over reported plans to field showgirls with little or no political experience as candidates in regional elections next month -- a strategy that caused uproar last year.

The scheme to use attractive young women, including television hostesses, models and Big Brother contestants, as candidates in European and local elections last June was described by Veronica Lario, Mr Berlusconi's wife, as an abuse of power and "shameless trash . . . [to] amuse the Emperor".

Nearly all the candidates were withdrawn after similar criticism.

But amid a rise in popularity after a physical attack on him in December, the Italian Prime Minister appears to be reviving the plan.

Potential candidates for the ruling People of Liberty (PdL) party in March elections in Lazio include Francesca Pascale, a television presenter, and Cristina Ravot, a model and singer, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

Other prospective candidates are Francesca Provetti, a Miss Italy finalist and television host, to stand in Lombardy, and Giovanna Del Giudice, a former weather presenter on Rete 4, one of Mr Berlusconi's Mediaset television channels and now an assistant in the Senate, to stand in Campania.

La Repubblica also named Chiara Sgarbossa, a former Miss Veneto and former television weather presenter, as being considered for a seat in the Veneto region. It named Graziana Capone, a law graduate and model dubbed "the Angelina Jolie of Bari" by many in the Italian media, as a possible candidate in Apulia.

The list was denounced by several of Mr Berlusconi's allies. Giorgio Stracquadanio, a PdL deputy and one of the Prime Minister's staunchest supporters, said there was a risk that the issue of veline (showgirls) would "re-explode just as we are seeking to raise the level of political debate".

Flavia Perina, another PdL deputy, said that adopting showgirls as candidates was "a retrograde step". She said that the move undermined serious women candidates such as Renata Polverini, a trade union leader.

"You cannot, on the one hand, put forward strong women candidates with a solid political background, and on the other put showgirls on the electoral lists," Ms Perina said.

Sofia Ventura, a political scientist at Bologna University and PdL activist, said: "Is it possible that we have learnt nothing in this party?"

Beyond his party, there was further criticism. Chiara Volpato, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Milan-Bicocca, said: "Those who thought Berlusconi might have learnt from the international reaction to his profoundly sexist behaviour will again be disappointed."

Ms Lario demanded a divorce last May after her husband attended the 18th birthday party in a Naples suburb of Noemi Letizia, an aspiring model to whom he gave a gold and diamond necklace. Ms Lario said she could "not stay with a man who frequents under-age girls", and later suggested he needed treatment for sex addiction.