Italy's Berlusconi hails Deneuve's 'blessed words' on harassment

ROME (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hailed French actress Catherine Deneuve on Thursday for defending men accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

"Catherine Deneuve spoke blessed words," said the 81-year-old Berlusconi, who resigned in 2011 mired in scandal over his wild "Bunga Bunga" parties with young women and under investigation over having sex with an underage prostitute.

"It's natural that women are happy if a man tries to seduce them," he said in a television interview. "I don't have much experience with this because it's always women who try to seduce me."

Deneuve and 99 other French women on Tuesday denounced a backlash against men, saying the recent international campaign against sexual harassment amounted to "puritanism" and was fueled by a "hatred of men."

In the aftermath of accusations against the U.S. movie producer Weinstein, millions of women took to social media to share their stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted, using the #Metoo hashtag.

Berlusconi still leads his conservative Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party and is mounting a political comeback ahead of elections on March 4, even though he is personally barred from office because of a 2013 conviction for tax fraud.

The billionaire media tycoon was eventually cleared in his sex trial in 2014 because the judge ruled it could not be proved he knew the age of the teenage nightclub dancer, Karima El Mahroug, better known by her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer".

However he is now on trial accused of bribing witnesses in the case.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio writing by Gavin Jones; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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