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For Berlusconi, Crawford does a spaghetti western

Crawford (Texas), July 21 (AFP): The sun-scorched corner of Texas George W. Bush calls home borrowed the props of a spaghetti western yesterday, as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rode into town.

A few miles from Bush’s ranch in the dusty town of Crawford, population 705, a gift shop stuffed with enough mugs, flags and photos to satisfy any fan of the 43rd President peddled its newest contribution to local fashion.

Just $14 and ninety-five cents would buy you an “Italy goes Western” T-shirt — with a print of the country’s distinctive outline overlaid with a picture of a leather cowboy boot and spurs.

A few steps along mainstreet, another store got into the spirit, hoisting a silver foil “Viva Italia” collage, and an Italian flag, while touting its own brand of T-shirt. Up the road, a man wearing a white stetson steered his horse around the SUVs in the press parking lot and satellite trucks beaming pictures of Berlusconi’s visit around the world.

The billionaire media mogul and Prime Minister, a key member of Bush’s Iraq war posse, is more at home in the stands of his glamorous European football club AC Milan, than on Bush’s sweltering ranch.

But the US leader appeared delighted to see him, after he thrashed across the fields in a Marine Corps helicopter, wrapping his arm around his guest’s shoulders before taking him off in a white pickup truck.

“Let me turn down my air conditioner — how y’all doing out there'” Bush quipped to sweltering reporters gasping in 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) heat.

An overnight stay in President George W. Bush’s ranch is a key endorsement for the Italian leader, under fire for his disastrous debut as president of the European Union.

He is likely to be offered Bush’s tour of the ranch, in which the President shows off areas where he has “cleared brush” the site of several photographs beloved of political image makers.

The US leader has not been shy in adopting the language or imagery of the wild West, warning Iraqi leaders that US forces would “smoke ’em out” and declaring he wanted Osama bin Laden “Dead or Alive”.

He may have had in mind the second of Italian director Sergio Leone’s classic 1960’s spaghetti western trilogy, For a Few Dollars More, in which bounty hunters played by Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef hunt a killer.

Bush got in the spirit himself on Friday and Saturday, emerging from his ranch to travel to Dallas and Houston on fundraising events — returning with a fistful of dollars for his 2004 re-election bid — $7 million to be exact.

Berlusconi was among a select group of world leaders to win a coveted invitation to the Prairie Chapel ranch.

“We only met two years ago, but I feel I know (Bush) like I know my grammar school friends,” Berlusconi told Time magazine for this week’s edition. He added: “We share a clarity in the way you say things: yes is yes, no is no. We also share an ideal that whoever is the leader must show the people the right road.”

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