MOSCOW (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave an enthusiastic, if unconventional, welcome on Thursday to the election of Barack Obama, citing among his attributes youth, good looks and a suntan.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, the 72-year-old media tycoon also said Obama’s election to the White House had been “hailed by world public opinion as the arrival of a messiah.”
“I will try to help relations between Russia and the United States where a new generation has come to power, and I don’t see problems for Medvedev to establish good relations with Obama who is handsome, young and also suntanned,” he said.
Berlusconi, who prides himself on being a friend of outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, shrugged off a barrage of criticism in Italy as his remark quickly appeared in print and audio on major media websites around the world.
Italy’s left-wing opposition parties accused him of bringing discredit on the country with comments which they said were at worst racist and at best a diplomatic blunder.
Berlusconi called his critics “imbeciles” without any sense of humor, adding, “God save us from the imbeciles.”
Berlusconi, who himself sports a year-round tan, is famed in diplomatic circles for making sometimes inappropriate quips.
On his first meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Berlusconi complimented him with the words: “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.
Reporting by Alberto Sisto; writing by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Diana Abdallah