Berlusconi Thanks Italians for Election Victory Despite 'Slander Campaign'

Premier Silvio Berlusconi thanked Italians on Tuesday for his election victory despite what he said was a "slander campaign" against him regarding suggestions he had an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old model.

Berlusconi's People's Freedom Party got 35 percent backing in European Parliament elections last weekend, less than he predicted but far more than the 26 percent for the center-left Democratic Party.

Berlusconi's party and his center-right allies also scored big in local elections held at the same time, wresting some key city and provincial seats from the center-left.

The election campaign was dominated by a suggestions from Berlusconi's wife that the 72-year-old premier had an inappropriate relationship with 18-year-old Noemi Letizia. The wife, Veronica Lario, cited Berlusconi's presence at Letizia's birthday party in announcing she was divorcing him.

Berlusconi has denied there was anything scandalous about his relations with Letizia, who he has said was the daughter of an old friend from political circles.

He said in a statement Tuesday that he knew it was difficult for Italians to ignore a campaign that he said was intended to "slander" him and said the result not only confirmed Italian's faith in his party but in him personally.

"Beyond my personal comfort, you have ratified our victory in both European and local elections, changing in our favor the political map in many cities and provinces that have always been dominated by the left," he said.

Berlusconi had boasted during the campaign that his party might snare as much as 45 percent of the vote, and would certainly get 40 percent. While it didn't come near that, a main coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League got 10 percent of the European Parliament vote and also did well in local balloting.