Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has angered gay groups by saying that having an eye for beautiful women is better than being gay.

The premier has been fighting allegations of sexual impropriety in his private life.

According to news agency ANSA, he said: “I have a gruelling work schedule and if I happen to look pretty girls in the face now and then, well then, it’s better to be a fan of pretty women than to be gay”.

The latest sex scandal to surround Mr Berlusconi alleges that he used his influence to have a teenage Morroccan belly dancer released from charges of theft.

Karima El Mahroug, also known as Ruby, had attended one of his luxurious parties. She was 17 at the time Mr Berlusconi is alleged to have abused his office.

He described the intervention as an act of “solidarity”.

Italian gay group Arcigay said he should apologise for his remark about homosexuality.

The group’s leader Aurelio Mancuso said: “Berlusconi should be ashamed of that remark, which highlights his difficulty over the Ruby affair. It is an undescribable comment and I hope gays on the right and the left rise up and condemn (him)”.