By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi's 28-year-old girlfriend, Francesca Pascale, wants to marry the four-times Italian prime minister, who she says first caught her eye when she was a teenager, according to a magazine interview published on Tuesday.

Berlusconi, who turns 77 on Sunday, is divorcing his second wife Veronica Lario, whom he married in 1990. The couple had three children together.

Lario filed for divorce in 2009, accusing Berlusconi of having an affair with a 17-year-old girl, which he denied. He is disputing a settlement with Lario that would cost him about 100,000 euros ($135,000) per day if confirmed by a court.

"I was a minor when I set my sights on him," Pascale said, according to an excerpt of the interview published on Vanity Fair's Web site. The full interview will be released on Wednesday in the magazine which features the couple on its cover. (http://link.reuters.com/cuc43v)

"I sought him out, I courted him, I made him fall in love and then I became his girlfriend. I practically did and do everything: All he has to do is say 'yes'."

Pascale, who grew up near the southern city of Naples, said she met Berlusconi when she was 21. She had co-founded a club called "Silvio We Miss You" after he lost the prime minister's office to Romano Prodi in 2006.

"I immediately asked him if I could give him my phone number and I asked for his," she said. "He told me: 'You're unscrupulous'."

The media magnate is appealing against a June conviction for abuse of office and paying for sex with a minor - nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, better known under her stage name "Ruby the Heartstealer".

El Mahroug has said under oath that she never had sex with Berlusconi, and the billionaire politician denies any wrongdoing.

In the magazine interview, Pascale said she did not attend the so-called "bunga-bunga" parties where El Mahroug was present because "women threw themselves at him" and she could not have tolerated it.

RETURN TO SPOTLIGHT

A definitive conviction for tax fraud last month has Berlusconi facing either a year of house arrest or several months of public service, and he is on the verge of being stripped of his seat in parliament.

Since the conviction, Berlusconi has repeatedly threatened to pull his center-right party's support for Enrico Letta's coalition government and has appeared in public only twice.

He plans to return to TV talk shows, his preferred forum, this week, Italian media said on Tuesday, as the chances of a spring election increase.

"In all the most painful situations in the past few years, Francesca knew how to stand by my side. She gave me joy, without asking for anything in exchange. She renewed my belief in the sincere love of a woman," Berlusconi is quoted as telling Vanity Fair for the article.

Pascale said that she initially kept her love for Berlusconi silent "because he was a married man" and that her mother had protested that the leader, who is 49 years her senior, was too old for her.

"My mother said to me: We admire him too, but he could be your father."

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

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