Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday dismissed protests by thousands of women across Italy as a crude attempt by political opponents to oust him by undemocratic means.
Country-wide demonstrations at the weekend were a pretext to build support for a legal prosecution "which has no correspondence with reality," Berlusconi said in a telephone call broadcast live on one of his television channels.
"I saw the usual partisan mobilisation against my person by a left wing that uses any excuse to try to beat an adversary they have not been able to beat democratically at the ballot box," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of women took to Italy's streets Sunday in protest against Berlusconi, voicing their anger at the distorted image of Italian women generated by sex scandals haunting the billionaire prime minister.
"Every woman that has had the opportunity to know me knows my regard for them: I have always behaved with the greatest attention and respect towards them," he said.
"I have always made it so that every woman feels, how should I say, special."
Berlusconi is fighting off allegations that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and abused his powers by asking police to release her after she had been arrested for suspected theft.
Last week, Italian prosecutors requested the prime minister be put on trial immediately for abuse of power and paying for sex with a girl under the age of 18, which is illegal in Italy.
Examining magistrate Cristina Di Censo is likely to come to a decision this week on whether to grant the prosecutors' request, and may fix a start date for a trial for sometime in the coming months.