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Berlusconi Raises Ire With Obscene Joke About His Party

Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi is in trouble again, after making an obscene joke at his own ruling party's expense. The quip is the latest in a series of scandals that have nettled the prime minister. And it came at the end of a week that took a deep toll on Italy's economy.

From Italy, Sylvia Poggioli filed this report for our Newscast desk:

Berlusconi says demands for his resignation are absurd and would only create instability and open new room for financial speculation. Thursday, Berlusconi sparked criticism for suggesting that his ruling party rename itself with a vulgar slang term for female genitalia.

Commentators and opposition parties poured scorn on Berlusconi, saying the quip showed his contempt for women.

Berlusconi has also been criticized for his handling of the financial crisis.

Moody's downgraded Italy's sovereign debt rating Monday, citing market concern over political uncertainties.

After the downgrade, finance minister Giulio Tremonti, with whom Berlusconi has been openly feuding, reportedly told the prime minister, "Silvio, you are the problem."

Evidently, Berlusconi's concerns for how his actions might affect Italy's economy have gone for naught: Friday, the ratings agency Fitch's downgraded the country's debt rating to AA-, from A+. In addition to Fitch's and Moody's, Standard and Poor's downgraded Italy's rating last month.

For anyone wondering, Berlusconi's current party is called the People of Freedom party. His joke suggested that it change its name to a variation on the group with whom he first rose to power in the 1990s: Forza Italy! — or, Go, Italy!

But evidently, not everyone was offended by the joke.

"I have to say Berlusconi's latest quip wasn't bad," Antonio Borghesi, of the opposition party Italy of Values, told Agence France-Presse. The proposed new name, Borhesi said, "just about sums up his lifestyle and his way of doing politics."

Beset by corruption and sex scandals, Berlusconi has seen his approval rating drop to 24 percent. And as Eyder reported in this space last month, the Italian leader was recorded saying that he would soon be "leaving this [expletive] country".

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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