On Monday a miracle occurred on the streets of Naples. They call it the Miracle of San Gennaro and it marks the day when the dried blood of Saint Januarius, beheaded in September 305 AD, turns to liquid apparently through the devotion of the faithful.

It’s not enough to rid the southern Italian city of the dreaded Camorra or resolve its never-ending rubbish crisis, but the latest “miracle” may inspire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who is looking for a few of his own.

Italy has been rocked by shocking new revelations this week about Berlusconi’s s-xual digressions and political pundits around the world are once again asking themselves how long he can last.

Last Thursday a new poll showed his popularity plummeted to a record low of 24% and his opponents called for his resignation after Naples prosecutors revealed details of telephone taps in which the premier talks about er-tic parties with Gianpaolo Tarantini, a convicted drug dealer who allegedly supplied him with a string of escorts, models and actresses.

“Last night I had a queue outside my door,” Berlusconi boasts in one alleged conversation. “There were 11 of them. I could only do eight because I couldn’t manage all of them. But this morning I feel great … I am quite pleased with my stamina.”

In another conversation he confided he was “just a prime minister in my spare time”.

It is difficult to say what is more impressive: the fact that the 74-year-old can boast eight conquests a night or the fact that he is still in office after one s-x scandal after another and a dismal economy.

But that may not last.

“I think the man has been severely hit by public opinion at large,” said 85 year-old sociologist Franco Ferrarotti. “The man has been vilified, not because he goes off with women but because he pays for it. Italians think that’s bad.”

According to the Naples investigation of seven people, which includes a total of 100,000 taped conversations, Tarantini is alleged to have recruited escorts for the parties the politician hosted and was even part of the premier’s official delegation on a visit to Beijing in October 2008.

Tarantini is the man who introduced the prime minister to escort Patrizia D’Addario who made headlines after recording her encounters with Berlusconi in his white satin pyjamas in the so-called “Putin bed” at Grazioli Palace in November 2008. D’Addario later said she earned 1000 euros for attending a party at the PM’s home but was not paid when she stayed the night.

Berlusconi is not under investigation himself but has been called to testify. In a separate trial in Milan he is defending charges that he paid for s-x with an underage prostitute called Ruby the Heartstealer and used his position to try and conceal it.

Prostitution is not illegal in Italy and prosecutors suspect the girls were recruited to ensure future favours as Tarantini has been linked to some of Italy’s largest companies including the defence giant Finmeccanica, whose stock incidentally plummeted 8.63% in Milan in the midst of the scandal on Monday.

Tarantini, his wife Angela Devenuto and colleague Valter Lavitola are also accused of blackmailing Berlusconi and receiving up to 850,000 euros and a luxury apartment near the Via Veneto in Rome for their trouble.

Ferrarotti, a leading academic who has published several books, says this new scandal is more serious than the others. “If Berlusconi has fun because of his prestige and because he is a champion of virility, Italians accept that,” said Ferrarotti. “But the Naples judges seem to be able to prove that there was money for s-x. If that can be proved in court, it would be fatal.”

Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s family, created an interesting diversion publishing an alleged taped conversation of Tarantini saying he had been offered “a million euro contract” by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia after the D’Addario scandal broke, but the network “categorically denies” having ever made him an offer.

What is of more concern is that the prime minister was recorded describing Italy as a “sh-t country” and calling one of its crucial allies, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an “unf-ckable fat arse” — although both stories barely received any coverage here in Italy.

While the disparate opposition is now calling for the PM to go and the media has whipped itself into a frenzy over his s-x parties, most pundits believe it will be Berlusconi’s coalition partner, the Northern League, that decides his political future.

“This man will be here as long as he has a majority — even a slim majority,” said Ferrarotti. “He will not resign. He is a gambler and he will go on until 2013 unless the League think he is too hazardous for its re-election.”

In Naples at least they say miracles can happen.

Peter Fray

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