Italian president snubs German candidate over "clown" comment
By Holger Hansen and Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano canceled a dinner with the German opposition's chancellor candidate on Wednesday after he described Italian former premier Silvio Berlusconi and comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo as "clowns".
Peer Steinbrueck, a Social Democrat who will take on Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's next national election in September, has a reputation for gaffes and his remark created the first diplomatic incident of his accident-prone campaign.
Steinbrueck said on Tuesday he was "appalled that two clowns have won" Italy's February 24-25 election. The vote was actually inconclusive with no party gaining a majority, although Grillo's protest party surged dramatically.
Napolitano, an 87-year-old former communist with no natural affinity for Berlusconi or Grillo, now faces the difficult task of trying to appoint a coalition government.
Italian media said he had expressed concern about "populism" after the election result in a private meeting during his visit to Germany, but these comments could not be confirmed.
As head of state, he may have felt duty-bound to defend the dignity of Italy's political institutions.
The German candidate's spokesman said Napolitano canceled "because of Steinbrueck's remarks on Tuesday" and added that the SPD politician "understood Napolitano's domestic political reasons for cancelling".
Napolitano's spokesman was unavailable for comment. Continued...