I'm no showgirl, Italy's business leader tells PM

Thu May 21, 2009 1:55pm EDT
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ROME (Reuters) - Emma Marcegaglia, the head of Italy's industrialists who considers herself a hard-nosed businesswoman, was not thrilled when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi joked Thursday that she was like a "showgirl."

In his address to the annual meeting of Confindustra, Italy's elite industrialist grouping, Berlusconi jokingly used the word "velina" to refer to Marcegaglia, a term used in Italian television to denote a showgirl.

He said he had a meeting with Marcegaglia Wednesday to discuss her speech. "An usher told me a showgirl was there to see me ... she was in great form, very elegant," he joked.

Later, when she attended another meeting, Marcegaglia started her speech by saying: "Frankly, I have nothing against showgirls but I prefer (to be known as) a serious person, a leader, a free and steady person."

The word "velina" has become a buzzword in Italian politics referring to a controversy about young attractive women seeking public office.

Berlusconi's wife, who has said she wants a divorce, has publicly criticized what she says is his party's selection of young attractive women to run in June's European elections.

(Reporting by Francesca Piscioneri and Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Jon Hemming)