The Italian Prime Minister has been blasted for his blundering welcome of the US president-elect after he praised Barack Obama`s "suntan", according to Sky News.

Silvio Berlusconi made the comment at a joint press conference with Russia`s President Dmitry Medvedev.

"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 suntanned," he said.

Italy`s left-wing opposition parties have demanded Mr Berlusconi apologise for the gaffe - which they say is at worst racist and at best a diplomatic blunder.

"Berlusconi cannot control himself in the best of circumstances," said Dario Franceschini of Italy`s centre-left opposition Democratic Party.

"He forgets that his words hurt our country`s image in the world."

But the Italian leader, who himself sports a suntan, hit back at his critics - accusing them of not having a sense of humour.

"God save us from the imbeciles," he said.

The 72-year-old media mogul is no stranger to putting his foot in it.

While campaigning for elections in 2006, he famously said that Chinese people "boiled babies for fertiliser" during the Mao Zedong era.

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

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