A million protesters, the majority of them women, took to the streets across Italy yesterday to call on scandal-hit Silvio Berlusconi to resign.
Marches were held in 200 towns and cities as Italians voiced their anger and frustration at the 74 year-old prime minister, who is facing charges of having sexual intercourse with an underage prostitute and abuse of power.
The protesters said their aim was to show that their dignity and the image of the country had been offended by Mr Berlusconi's obsession with young girls.
Rallies were held in Milan, Genoa, Naples and Bari but the largest was in Rome, where thousands packed into the Piazza del Popolo, which two months ago had been the scene of violent riots after Mr Berlusconi won a confidence vote in the parliament.
Demonstrators, including prostitutes and nuns, carried banners saying: "Italy is not a brothel" and "No prostitutes, no Madonnas, just women."
The protests came a week after demonstrators had also tried to march on Mr Berlusconi's home at Arcore near Milan, where sex parties were allegedly held, in an attempt to throw knickers into his garden, but police prevented them.
Among those who spoke at the Rome rally was Giulia Bongiorno, a member of a party that broke away from Mr Berlusconi's ruling coalition. "I am not here to criticise Berlusconi's sex parties but I am here to criticise when they are used as a selection process," she said.
Leaks from more than 600 pages of the prosecution file suggest Mr Berlusconi surrounded himself at parties with starlets and other women hoping to use their looks to gain positions in politics or within his TV empire.
Organisers called the protest "If Not Now, When?" -- after the novel by the Italian author Primo Levi which tells of Jewish partisans behind German lines during World War Two as they seek to continue their fight against the occupier.
Iaia Caputo, of the organising committee, said: "The Ruby case (the prostitute at the centre of the scandal is known as Ruby) has revealed a system of political selection based on an exchange of sex and power.
"If we accept this as normal, we risk prejudicing the free choice of women."
For almost a month, billionaire Mr Berlusconi has been in the spotlight over his infamous "bunga bunga" parties. He has insisted they were nothing more than convivial social events.
A preliminary hearings judge is not expected to announce before tomorrow whether she has granted the prosecution request to send the case to trial. If approved, the trial could start as early as April.
Mr Berlusconi was said to have watched the rally on television but made no public comment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)