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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Italian premier pampers Putin's girls
Not even the summer holidays are an excuse for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to take a break from hosting important foreign guests.

This year, two rather elusive visitors to his luxury villa on the Sardinian coast have attracted considerable interest in the Italian media.

Building on his apparently good ties with Vladimir Putin, Mr Berlusconi invited the Russian president's two daughters to spend several weeks at his sumptuous La Certosa residence on the island's Costa Smeralda.

And Katya and Masha, as they are affectionately known, can hardly complain about the level of attention they have received.

Entertainment

One of Mr Berlusconi's own
daughters, Barbara, broke off her holiday in Australia early to come and entertain the Putin girls.

They have not been short of things to do.

According to local reports, Barbara and the two girls usually start the day with a boat trip. The Berlusconi family also own a private beach, fitness centre, tennis court and cinema.

Barbara - who studied Russian at school - is also said to have been showing the girls, aged 17 and 18, the lavish night life at the millionaires' clubs in Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo - under the careful watch of their bodyguards.

The media, however, have been denied direct access to the trio and have had to satisfy themselves with long-distance shots of their well-guarded holiday spot.

Locals said Mr Putin had allowed the girls to visit on the condition that Mr Berlusconi made sure there were no pictures taken of them.

The Italian premier - who also fills the post of foreign minister - is meanwhile said to be limbering up for another diplomatic engagement - the marriage of Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar's 20-year-old daughter, Ana, in early September.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Europe
18 Jul 01 | Europe
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