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Berlusconi calls Obama 'tanned' again

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FRANCES D'EMILIO | September 27, 2009 02:03 PM EST | AP

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ROME — Premier Silvio Berlusconi is still talking about President Barack Obama's "tan," and this time the gaffe-prone Italian leader has made a wisecrack about Michelle Obama's skin color as well.

Berlusconi told a Milan rally of conservative supporters on Sunday that he was bringing greetings from the United States from "What's his name? Some tanned guy. Ah, Barack Obama!"

Shortly after Obama's election in November 2008, Berlusconi raised eyebrows by saying the victor was "young, handsome, and even has a good tan."

This time, Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul who began his career as a cruise ship entertainer, also took a jab at the First Lady.

"You won't believe it," he said, "but two of them went to the beach because the wife is also tanned."

Berlusconi is known for his gaffes.

European media have played up photos showing Michelle Obama greeting many leaders at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh summit last week with a kiss but stiffly holding out her arm for a handshake when it came time to greet Berlusconi.

The photos show Berlusconi's gazing at Mrs. Obama's gown, instead of her face, and holding his arms out as if in delight at what he sees, while the U.S. President looks on, apparently not amused.

The 72-year-old Berlusconi has made no secret for his admiration of attractive women. He has been on the defensive in a sex scandal that erupted last spring after his wife complained he was infatuated with young women and announced she is divorcing him.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Bari are investigating a local businessman, as a suspect in a cocaine investigation, who has said he sent some 30 young women to dinners and parties at Berlusconi's Rome palazzo residence and Sardinian villa. The businessman told investigators he paid the women's expenses and in some cases extra money in case they had sex with the premier. But he stressed Berlusconi was unaware of these arrangements.

Berlusconi, who isn't under investigation in the scandal, has denied ever paying for sex.

At Sunday's rally, Berlusconi delivered a kind of backhanded compliment to the U.S. president.

The premier, commenting on Obama's use of a teleprompter in public speeches, cracked: "'He's not reckless like those of us who say what comes to mind."

"We all asked ourselves, 'Does he know what he's doing, or is he just someone who knows how to read well?'"

"But he's all there, in a big way, and that should make us all happy and satisfied because we need the greatest democracy, the greatest country, to be in trustworthy hands," the Italian premier said.

Berlusconi's center-right coalition has continued Italy's stance as a staunch U.S. ally.