Silvio Berlusconi has told survivors of the Italian earthquake to lift their spirits by heading for the beach. He added that people forced from their wrecked homes should look on their tented accommodations as a camping trip.

The Italian Prime Minister’s comments have enraged some of those living in tent villages, after a second fitful night that was rocked by aftershocks from the 6.3-magnitude earthquake, Italy’s worst for 30 years. The death toll rose to 250 yesterday.

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Earlier there had been widespread praise for the emergency housing operation, mounted by the Civil Protection Department and the Red Cross with the aid of volunteers and charities, and Mr Berlusconi won plaudits for cancelling a trip to Russia and spending every day since Monday in the stricken region, encouraging and commending the rescue workers and vowing that “no one will be left alone”.

Mr Berlusconi insisted that his remarks had been misunderstood and that he was simply trying to encourage optimism. “Go by the seaside. It is only an hour away from here by bus and there are plenty of hotels at your disposal that are paid for by the State,” he said during his daily visit to the quake zone in Abruzzo.

The people living tent cities “have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food. Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping,” he said, according to the German N-TV channel. He told one homeless woman to put on suncream, drawing cheers from onlookers.

Mr Berlusconi — who lives in Palazzo Chigi, the Prime Minister’s residence, rents a frescoed Renaissance palace in Rome and owns a mansion in Milan and villas in Sardinia and Bermuda — insisted that there was nothing inappropriate in his remarks.