Italy ex-leader Berlusconi backs Deneuve on male courtship

ROME — Italian ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi, known for his "bunga bunga" parties and fondness for younger women, is praising Catherine Deneuve for warning against a courtship backlash following the swell of sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men.

In a late-night talk show Thursday, Berlusconi said Deneuve had pronounced "holy" words in saying men should be free to hit on women. Berlusconi joked that usually women hit on him, but that it was only "natural" that women enjoy being courted by men.

"It's not an offense to court women if it stays in the realm of elegance," he said on RAI state television's "Porta a Porta" program.

Berlusconi has long characterized his sex-fueled "bunga bunga" parties, where showgirls and models were paid to attend, as "elegant soirees." Though he has faced years of legal woes, he has never faced sexual assault allegations, and a 2013 conviction for paying for sex with an underage woman was overturned on appeal.

But the 81-year-old former cruise ship crooner does appreciate beautiful, young women. His second wife left him after he showed up at the 18th birthday party of a supporter's daughter, and his current girlfriend is some 50 years his junior.

Berlusconi is now heading up a center-right coalition that hopes to retake power in March 4 general elections. The three-time premier can't run himself because of a tax fraud conviction, but he is still a popular politician in Italy and remains a kingmaker as head of his Forza Italia party.

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