Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been summoned to stand trial, accused of paying an underage prostitute for sex and abuse of power.
Three female judges in Milan will hear the case, due to begin on April 6.
For several weeks Berlusconi’s centre-right government has been shaken by the allegations, which he denies.
Examining judge Cristina Di Censo followed the advice of prosecutors, who accuse the prime minister of paying for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan dancer.
As in previous cases, Berlusconi’s supporters in parliament are standing by him.
“The signs of persecution are more and more evident. The accelerator is pressed to the maximum against Berlusconi for an obviously political use of justice,” said Fabrizio Cicchitto, parliamentary speaker for the prime minister’s People of Freedom party.
Opposition figures were less sympathetic:
“Berlusconi considers himself as persecuted and innocent, so let him go and defend himself in the courts and save his country from the spectacle of a prime minister on trial for child prostitution and abuse of power,” said Dario Franceschini of the centre-left PD party.
The young woman at the centre of the case, known as Ruby, has been causing more of a stir after appearing in a television commercial. Now 18, she denies claims that Berlusconi paid her for sex.
The prime minister still has other cases pending. But these charges over his personal behaviour – which prompted large protest rallies from women at the weekend – are among the most serious he has faced.
It is still not certain that a trial will take place, but Italy’s 74-year-old leader is looking increasingly beleaguered.