Italian Gay Celebrity Calls Putin Sexiest Man Alive

At home, Vladimir Putin is seen as macho. In Italy, a gay celebrity is calling him the sexiest man in the world.

Alfonso Signorini, a Canale 5 TV show host and the editor of two popular glossy weeklies, is causing waves after he described Putin as his "erotic dream" in an interview published late last week with leading Italian newspaper La Stampa. Signorini, who is openly gay, was asked who is the sexiest Italian man. He replied that he didn't know, but added, "In the world, this is certainly Vladimir Putin.

"When I saw his naked torso and a slain Siberian tiger lying at his feet, I almost had a stroke. Won-der-ful!" Signorini said in a reference to Putin's much-photographed shirtless fishing trip in Siberia last year and an incident recently when Putin shot a tiger with a tranquilizer gun, putting it to sleep but not killing it.

"He is my erotic dream. I find him absolutely astonishing," Signorini said by telephone Friday from Milan. "I'm attracted by his charisma and his icy glance."

The comments could embarrass both the Italian and Russian governments.

Signorini said he had asked Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to introduce him to Putin and Berlusconi laughed in response. The magazines that Signorini edits, TV Sorrisi e Canzoni and Chi, with a circulation of 1 million and 500,000, respectively, are published by Berlusconi's publishing house Mondadori, and Canale 5 also belongs to Berlusconi's Mediaset Group.

"Berlusconi talked to me about him with enthusiasm. He told me how he was his guest at his country home," he said by telephone. "My dream is to meet him."

Signorini's praise for Putin was reported Friday on the web site of Russia Today, the state-owned English-language satellite channel, but the article later was removed. No one at Russia Today or the White House, where Putin serves as prime minister, was available for comment.

Berlusconi and Putin are close friends. Putin and his family have been guests of Berlusconi at his summer residence in Sardinia several times. In the summer of 2002, Putin's two daughters spent a month at Berlusconi's villa. The following summer, the entire family visited. Berlusconi also has defended Putin against international criticism. In 2003, he called criticism of Russia's actions in Chechnya and the detention of Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud charges, "distortions in the press, in Italy as abroad," and recently he defended Russia's actions in South Ossetia.

Some Italian media, meanwhile, are giving prominent coverage to Signorini. "The director of Chi and TV Sorrisi e Canzoni unveils his passion for the prime minister and former secret agent," headlined the Italian web site Gay.it, putting Signorini's picture close to a picture of a bare-chested Putin.

Putin, 56, made international headlines last year when he stripped off his shirt for the cameras while vacationing in the Siberian mountains. The photos were prominently enshrined on the Kremlin web site. Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote that women who visited the web site "were screaming with delight and showering him with a lot of compliments."

Putin's photos have struck a chord among the Russian gay chat rooms and blogs as well.

Signorini told Gay.it that Berlusconi was tolerant toward gays.

Putin told a news conference last year that he also was tolerant toward gays, saying he respected "man's freedoms, whatever forms they take."