|Berlusconi denied accusations from prosecutors that payments he made to women due to testify [AFP]
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has defended his wild parties, which included strippers, as "elegant dinners" characterised by an atmosphere of "joy, serenity and conviviality."
Berlusconi made a first appearance at his trial for having sex with an underage prostitute on Friday.
He said that after dinner his female guests would then hold "burlesque contests and practised" with him in a discotheque in the villa.
"I wasn't the judge, I just watched. I had a lot of fun," he said.
The 75-year-old, who stepped down in November, also defended himself against accusations from prosecutors that payments he made to three women due to testify at the trial could be a way to influence their testimony.
"I pay for these girls' upkeep because their lives have been ruined by this trial," he told reporters during a break in the hearing.
'A media slander operation'
Berlusconi said some 30 women had been reduced to penury by the trial, adding that some of them have lost jobs and boyfriends due to media pressure.
"Their only fault was accepting a dinner invitation from me," he said.
"Now I pay for their upkeep. When you have a boat, you don't worry about how much the crew costs, do you?" he said.
"I've come here to see this show, a vast media slander operation," he said, adding that the use of state funds for a "useless" trial was scandalous.
At the last hearing on Monday one witness recounted coming to a party at Berlusconi's villa near Milan for the first time and seeing strippers dressed in nun costumes and football jerseys perform for the prime minister.
Imane Fadil said she was paid 2,000 euros ($2,600) by Berlusconi that night.
Berlusconi is charged with having sex with Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El-Mahroug when she was just 17, and then allegedly abusing his powers by getting police to release her when she was arrested in a separate incident.
El-Mahroug, better known by her stage name of "Ruby the Heart Stealer", denies having sex with Berlusconi and he rejects all charges.
The court fixed the next hearing for May 7, when yet more girls are expected to testify to what went on at the self-proclaimed Latin lover's wild parties.