ROME - More than 100,000 women have signed a petition saying they are offended by Premier Silvio Berlusconi - an initiative launched by a newspaper after the premier made a sexist remark to an opposition politician.
Berlusconi, already under fire for his dalliances with young ladies, made the jab during a call in to a late-night talk show Oct. 7 that featured, among other guests, Rosy Bindi, a 58-year-old former minister who dresses conservatively, wears glasses and has short, grey hair.
"You are always more beautiful than intelligent," Berlusconi told her. She snapped back: "I'm not one of the women at your disposal."
Berlusconi's remark sparked outrage, and prompted three prominent Italian intellectuals to draft a feminist manifesto of sorts, stating that Berlusconi uses women's bodies for his political ends, denigrating women and democracy in the process.
"This man offends us. Stop him," reads the petition, which has been signed by well-known Italian artists, musicians, television personalities as well as ordinary Italians.
The left-leaning La Repubblica daily, which has been at the forefront of exposing Berlusconi's sex scandals and been sued by the premier as a result, is organizing the petition and reported Thursday that more than 100,000 women had signed.
Many women sent their photos into the newspaper's Web site, with the words "offended by the premier" or "not at your disposal" or similar statements written on them.
Berlusconi's scandal began earlier this year when his wife announced she was divorcing him, citing his presence at the birthday party of an 18-year-old model and his decision to run former showgirls as candidates for European Parliament elections.
In the aftermath several women, including a prostitute, came forward with stories that they had been paid by a Berlusconi associate to attend parties at the premier's homes. The associate, who is under investigation as part of an unrelated corruption probe, has said Berlusconi never knew the women had been paid.
Berlusconi has denied ever paying anyone for sex and denounced what he says is a media campaign to smear him. He has acknowledged, however, he is "no saint" and loves beautiful women, but insists Italians want him that way.
The petition is the second targeting Berlusconi following revelations about his scandals.
The first was launched over the summer calling on first ladies not to attend the Group of Eight summit in the town of L'Aquila to denounce what they say is Berlusconi's sexist behaviour in public and private.
And it's not the only anti-Berlusconi initiative making news.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni on Thursday ordered closed a Facebook site that exhorts fans: "Let's kill the premier."
"If the idea gets out that someone can write these things with impunity, there's the risk that it might occur to someone to actually do it," he said.