Page last updated at 02:38 GMT, Saturday, 8 November 2008

Berlusconi says Obama is 'tanned'


Silvio Berlusconi calls his critics 'imbeciles'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has provoked criticism for describing Barack Obama as "young, handsome, and tanned".

He made the remarks after a meeting with the Russian president in Moscow.

Opposition politicians in Italy said Mr Berlusconi's remarks about the US president-elect were at worst, racist and at best, undiplomatic.

Mr Berlusconi shrugged off the criticism, saying those who disagreed with him were humourless "imbeciles".

'Great compliment'

Mr Berlusconi made the quip at a news conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

''Obama is young, handsome and also tanned, so he has all the qualities to agree with you,'' he told the Russian leader, speaking in Italian through a translator.

The Italian news agency Ansa said Mr Berlusconi later defended the remark, calling it "a great compliment".

Responding to a reporter's suggestion that the remark might be misunderstood, he accused his opponents of not having a sense of humour.

''God save us from imbeciles,'' he added.

Gaffe prone

The Italian leader has a history of public gaffes.

On his first meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Berlusconi complimented him with the words: "Mr Rasmussen is not only a great colleague, he's also the best-looking prime minister in Europe."

He added: "He's so good looking, I'm even thinking of introducing him to my wife."

He sparked a minor diplomatic incident in 2005 by suggesting he had wooed Finnish President Tarja Halonen to ensure her backing for Italy to host the European Food Safety Authority.

"I had to use all my playboy tactics, even if they have not been used for some time," he said, prompting Helsinki to call in the Italian ambassador to explain the comments.

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