updated 1/25/2009 2:56:24 PM ET 2009-01-25T19:56:24

Premier Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage Sunday for suggesting that Italy's women were so beautiful they needed military escorts to avoid being raped.

Berlusconi made the comments in response to questions about his proposal to deploy 300,000 soldiers in the streets to fight crime. A series of violent attacks, including a rape in Rome on New Year's Eve and another outside the capital this week, have put pressure on the government to crack down on crime.

But Berlusconi said that, even in a militarized state, crimes like rape can happen. "You can't consider deploying a force that would be sufficient to prevent the risk," the ANSA and Apcom news agencies quoted him as saying. "We would have to have so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful."

'Profoundly offensive'
Opposition lawmakers denounced the comments.

Giovanna Melandri of the opposition Democratic Party said Berlusconi's comments were "profoundly offensive," saying the pain of rape could never be joked about in such a way.

Berlusconi, in an effort to explain himself, said he was complimenting Italian women "because there are only about 100,000 people in law enforcement, while there are millions of beautiful women."

He stressed that rape was a serious and "disgraceful" crime. But he added that people should never forget a sense of "levity and good humor" whenever his comments are concerned.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media-mogul-turned politician, has a history of gaffes. He courted controversy when he compared a German politician to a Nazi camp guard and when he said, shortly after 9/11, that Western civilization was superior to Islam.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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