'Heart Stealer' wants to be heard at Berlusconi sex trial
The young woman at the centre of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's trial for having sex with an underage prostitute said on Thursday she wanted to be heard in a courtroom just as the case is heading for a verdict within weeks.
In a lone protest outside the courts in Milan, Moroccan-born exotic dancer Karima El-Mahroug, known as "Ruby the Heart Stealer", said she had been "manipulated" by prosecutors and the media.
El-Mahroug had been on the witness list for both Berlusconi's defence and the prosecution but was not called by either to testify and the court has relied on her previous statements to the police.
"I want real justice to be done," the elegantly-dressed 20-year-old said, reading from a pre-prepared text and holding a placard reading: "I want to defend myself from lies and prejudice".
"I want people to know that the press is at fault because they hurt me to get at Silvio Berlusconi," she said. "I have been characterised as something that I am not -- a prostitute."
"I have always denied ever having sex for money and specifically with Silvio Berlusconi," she said.
"When I was 17... I barely knew who Berlusconi was. Now I realise there is a war against him which does not concern me."
El-Mahroug appeared in court in January to testify after failing to appear twice before while she was on holiday in Mexico but was not heard.
The trial against Berlusconi for having sex for money with El-Mahroug when he was prime minister and she was just 17. He is then accused of abusing the powers of his office by calling a police station to have her released from custody.
The 76-year-old billionaire tycoon denies all charges. He faces up to 12 years in prison if found guilty although he is unlikely to serve time even if convicted because of sentencing guidelines in Italy for over-70s accused of non-violent crimes.
Berlusconi has been prime minister of Italy three times in a turbulent political career lasting two decades and his centre-right coalition came an extremely close second in elections in February.