Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's gaffe-prone Prime Minister, today found himself accused of racism after calling Barack Obama "suntanned".
Speaking in Moscow at a joint news conference with President Medvedev, Mr Berlusconi said Mr Obama's election had been "hailed by world public opinion as the arrival of a Messiah".
He added: "I will try to help relations between Russia and the United States, where a new generation has come to power. I don't see problems for Medvedev in establishing good relations with Obama, who is also handsome, young and suntanned".
Mr Berlusconi said he had intended the remark as a compliment and those who failed to understand this were "imbeciles".
Dario Franceschini, a centre left deputy, called on Mr Berlusconi to apologise to Mr Obama and to avoid embarrassing Italy in future with remarks "in bad taste".
He said the flamboyant Italian leader and media tycoon "forgets that his words affect the image of our country in the world". He added: "To say that the US President is young, good looking and suntanned will sound offensive to many and charged with dangerous ambiguity."
Walter Veltroni, the opposition leader, said: "A statesman cannot allow himself to make cabaret jokes while abroad. Berlusconi is seriously damaging the image and dignity of our country." Massimo Donadi of the centre left Italy of Values party said Mr Berlusconì's "unhappy" remark had exposed the centre right's "creeping racism".
Mr Berlusconi's previous gaffes include remarking to businessmen on a trip to the US that Italy was a great country to invest in "because we have fewer Communists nowadays and beautiful secretaries, superb girls".
Meeting the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Mr Berlusconi described him as "the best-looking Prime Minister in Europe" and suggested he should have an affair with his wife, the former actress Veronica Lario.
In 2005 Helsinki demanded an explanation when he said he had used "playboy tactics" to persuade the Finnish President Tarja Halonen to back Italy as the site of the European Food Safety Authority.
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