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Italian President Giorgio Napolitano cancelled a planned dinner meeting with Peer Steinbruek in Berlin on Wednesday February 27, after the German opposition chancellor candidate insulted two leaders from Italy’s February 24-25 election.

The Social Democrat – who will take on Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s national election in September – was referring to Beppe Grillo, a former professional comedian, and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose alleged sexual exploits are well documented in the press.

Steinbruek said: “To a certain extent, I’m appalled that two clowns have won. One professional clown who is also not offended if you call him one – Grillo – and another who is clearly a clown with a testosterone boost.”

A spokesman for the gaff-prone German says he called the 87-year-old Italian President to clarify his comments, and they had a “friendly” conversation.

Napolitano, a former communist with no affiliation with either party, made it clear, however, that as head of state he would brook no insults to national pride.

While he did stand up for the candidates, unconfirmed reports in the Italian media said the President, who now faces a tough task appointing a new government, had expressed concern about “popularism” after the election at a private meeting in Germany.

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