Berlusconi hails Kazakh men for population growth

ROME (Reuters Life!) - Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi praised the virility of Kazakhstan’s men during a visit to Rome by its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, saying this was the reason for the former Soviet country’s population growth.

The comment by the 73-year-old Italian leader, who often boasts of his own virility and has been in trouble for hosting parties with prostitutes, came at a meeting with Nazarbayev that Berlusconi said sealed business deals for “billions of dollars.”

The Italian prime minister, praising Kazakhstan’s “great natural resources and huge demographic growth” at a meeting with Nazarbayev late on Thursday, added with a smile that the latter “demonstrates the great vitality of all Kazakh males.”

Nazarbayev says his country’s population had grown by 1.4 million over the last decade to reach over 16 million people.

He thanked Berlusconi for supporting the Kazakh presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next year, which has sparked controversy due to his poor record on human rights.

The Kazakh leader, who was due to visit Roman Catholic leader Pope Benedict on Friday, said people from 49 different religious denominations lived together in Kazakhstan, making it “an example of how to live together in peace and tolerance.”

Human rights campaigners say Kazakhstan is not fit to chair the OSCE because it flaunts human rights and silences critics of the government. But analysts say Western criticism of Nazarbayev is muted because of his country’s vast oil and gas reserves.

Reporting by Stephen Brown, editing by Paul Casciato