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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 14:40 GMT
Italy PM puts trader in his place
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: "Planetary gaffes"
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may have added market traders to the long list of those he has offended.

During a live radio phone-in, he upbraided a stall holder from the Sicilian city of Palermo who called him a "colleague".

Mr Berlusconi said: "We don't do the same job, we are not colleagues.

"You do a job that is useful to the economy, but I'm no street hawker, my job is to govern the country."

His comments are unlikely to enhance his image-makers' attempts to present the prime minister as a man-of-the-people.

Mr Berlusconi has become notorious for making comments that are widely regarded as tasteless.

Most famously, he told German MEP Martin Schulz that he would be dream casting for a Nazi concentration camp guard in a forthcoming Italian film.

The remark, made at the launch of Italy's presidency of the European Union last year, caused huge offence in Germany and - after Mr Berlusconi refused to apologise - a diplomatic rift between the two nations.

'Football and women'

At the Brussels summit at the end of Italy's presidency, as attempts to reach agreement foundered, Mr Berlusconi suggested alternative topics of conversation for the assembled EU leaders.

"Let's talk about football and women," he suggested to them.

Turning to four-times-married German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, he added: "Gerhard, why don't you start?"

Mr Berlusconi's claims about the "superiority" of Western democracies compared with Islamic nations, apparently sympathetic comments on wartime Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, reference to Italy's "superb" secretaries (in terms of their looks, not their work) and "joke" abut Aids sufferers have merely added to the growing ranks of the offended.

One former Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, has said Mr Berlusconi has a tendency to make "planetary gaffes".

The prime minister's radio and television appearances have become increasingly frequent, as he seeks to build momentum for his Forza Italia party (Go Italy) ahead of European parliamentary elections in June.

Country profile: Italy
21 Jan 04  |  Country profiles

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