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Opponents tell Berlusconi to quit over sex scandal

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By Deepa Babington

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday faced growing pressure to resign after embarrassing new revelations of parties and young women prompted questions about his ability to govern a country rocked by financial crisis.

Italian newspapers in recent day have replaced front page headlines on soaring bond yields and sliding shares with wiretapped chats between Berlusconi and Giampaolo Tarantini, a businessman suspected of providing prostitutes for the premier.

In one excerpt published by the Corriere della Sera daily, Berlusconi boasts of champagne-filled partying with women till 6:30 am at a Milan nightclub and pocketing eight phone numbers of women.

"If you have a girl -- two girls, three girls -- to bring," Berlusconi is quoted as asking the southern businessman ahead of their next encounter. "Please don't get tall ones ... because we are not tall."

In another excerpt reported by major dailies, Berlusconi says "Gianpi" and his female friends could come along on the premier's flight to Milan. Yet another has him joking to a young woman that he works as prime minister during his "spare time."

Opposition parties stepped up calls for Berlusconi to resign after the latest disclosures, saying a country struggling to overcome a debt crisis that threatens the euro zone could not afford a premier who "governs in his spare time."

"Is there a single reason comprehensible to the world on why Berlusconi should not resign?," Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the center-left Democratic Party said. "We have very serious problems."

Berlusconi's old ally-turned-enemy Gianfranco Fini also called for a new government, while the Italy of Values party run by centrist Antonio Di Pietro said it was time for elections.

Berlusconi loyalists rallied to defend the premier and said he had no plans to resign.

MORE SCANDAL

Berlusconi has hung on despite a barrage of lurid scandals over the years including the infamous "Rubygate" affair where he is accused of paying for sex with a teenaged prostitute.

His wife asked for a divorce saying he cavorted with minors. Revelations of "bunga bunga" parties with escorts and showgirls angling for jobs in his media empire have prompted incredulity and sniggers, but failed to push him out of power.

Still, the latest disclosures come at a sensitive time for the premier, who is grappling with slumping ratings, frustrated allies, a financial storm that has driven up Italy's borrowing costs and an unpopular austerity package.

Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, is under heavy pressure to implement tough reforms to cut debt and revive growth. Only European Central Bank intervention has prevented Italy's borrowing costs from spiralling out of control.

Berlusconi has kept up a defiant attitude through the various crises, blaming his old foes -- "Communist" magistrates and a "leftist" press -- for hounding him mercilessly.

His lawyer last week said the premier was unaware of any connection between Tarantini and prostitution and repeated that there was nothing scandalous about the "convivial" evenings at his residences.

Apart from "Rubygate" and three tax fraud trials, magistrates are still waiting for a date to question Berlusconi over an alleged attempt by Tarantini to extort money from him in return for his silence over the prostitution allegations.

Eight people, including Tarantini, have been indicted in the affair. The businessman from Bari was arrested with his wife earlier this month.