FORMER Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has praised Catherine Deneuve for warning against a courtship backlash following the swell of sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men.

In a late-night talk show, Mr Berlusconi said the French actress had pronounced “holy” words in saying men should be free to “hit on” women.

The 81-year-old, known for his “bunga bunga” parties and fondness for younger women, joked that usually women hit on him, but it was only “natural” that women enjoy being courted by men.

“It’s not an offence to court women if it stays in the realm of elegance,” he said on RAI state television’s Porta A Porta programme.

Deneuve was among about 100 performers, scholars and others who signed an open letter on Tuesday published by the newspaper Le Monde.

It said the “legitimate protest against sexual violence” stemming from the Harvey Weinstein scandal had gone too far and threatened hard-won sexual freedoms.

Berlusconi has long characterised his sex-fuelled “bunga bunga” parties, where showgirls and models were paid to attend, as “elegant soirees”.

Though he has faced years of legal woes, he has never faced sexual assault allegations. A 2013 conviction for paying for sex with an under-age girl was overturned on appeal.