Premier Silvio Berlusconi is being criticized for suggesting that Italy's women are so beautiful they need military escorts to avoid rape.

Berlusconi made the comments Sunday, responding to questions about a proposal to deploy 300,000 soldiers in the streets to fight crime. A series of violent crimes, including a rape in Rome on New Year's Eve and another outside the capital this week, prompted the proposal.

But Berlusconi said even with added police, such crimes can happen, and that "We would need so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful."

Opposition lawmaker Giovanna Melandri said Berlusconi's comments were "profoundly offensive."

Berlusconi says he was complimenting women.