AN INCREASINGLY isolated Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi acknowledged for the first time yesterday that he "sometimes is a sinner" but then lashed out at magistrates claiming they were attempting a "political coup".
Mr Berlusconi, who is fighting a battle for survival against the courts seeking to try him in a sex scandal, said prosecutors were using Soviet-style spying tactics.
The embattled premier used an interview in 'Il Foglio' to raise the stakes in his war of nerves with Milan magistrates ahead of a judge's decision next week on whether he should stand trial on charges of paying for sex with a minor and later abusing his power to help her.
"I, sometimes, like everyone, am a sinner but the type of moralistic justice being waged against me is . . . simply scandalous," he said in the interview with 'Il Foglio' editor Giuliano Ferrara, a former Berlusconi minister.
Prosecutors accuse the prime minister of paying for sex with a nightclub dancer when she was under 18, which is against the law in Italy.
They also accuse him of abusing the powers of his office by pressuring police to have her released from custody over separate theft allegations.
In his latest broadside against the magistrates, who he says are politically motivated, Mr Berlusconi said their investigation was "farcical and worthy of the espionage hunting expeditions on other people's lives that were carried out in communist (East) Germany".
He said he was the target of those who wanted to carry out a political "coup by moralists".
The prosecutors' request for a trial had hundreds of pages of evidence alleging Mr Berlusconi paid for sex with a "significant number" of young women, including then-17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug.
There has been little love lost between Italy's magistrates and Mr Berlusconi. He ratcheted up his attack in the interview, accusing them of using "hobnailed boot justice that sweeps away the rights of the person".
Demonstrations against and in favour of Mr Berlusconi will be held this weekend. Women will march against him in some 20 Italian cities tomorrow, while supporters plan a demonstration at Milan's courthouse.