Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Monday, 30 January 2006

Berlusconi 'in pre-poll sex ban'

Silvio Berlusconi at the rally in Sardinia
Mr Berlusconi is renowned for his unorthodox comments

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has surprised followers with an unusual pledge - to give up sex until after April's general election.

Mr Berlusconi, 69, reportedly made the vow at a campaign rally in Sardinia with a popular local TV preacher.

Father Massimiliano Pusceddu had praised him for opposing gay marriage and defending family values.

In remarks quoted by Il Giornale newspaper, Fr Pusceddu promised his support, prompting the PM's comments.

"I will try to meet your expectations, and I promise from now on, two-and-a-half months of absolute sexual abstinence, until 9 April," he said.


Mr Berlusconi has been criticised in the past for using sexual innuendo and making sexist jokes.

Last June, the prime minister stunned the Finnish government by saying he had used his "playboy" charms to persuade female President Tarja Halonen to give up attempts to house the EU food agency in Helsinki.

And in 2003 he told US business leaders they should invest in Italy because it had "beautiful secretaries... superb girls".

Correspondents say the twice-married Italian leader sees himself as something of a ladies' man.

He left his first wife 27 years ago to marry glamorous blonde actress Veronica Lario, but there have been rumours in recent years of marital problems.

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