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Voters punish Berlusconi in polls


Giuliano Pisapia celebrates with supporters at the Duomo square, in Milan (AP)

Giuliano Pisapia celebrates with supporters at the Duomo square, in Milan (AP)

Giuliano Pisapia celebrates with supporters at the Duomo square, in Milan (AP)

Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has acknowledged that his centre-right party suffered defeats in his political stronghold of Milan and in the southern city of Naples - outcomes that observers say could undermine his government's stability and his leadership.

Mr Berlusconi had campaigned hard ahead of the local elections and urged Italians to go to the polls to signal their support for his conservative coalition government in Rome.

"This time we didn't win, but we continue. I am a fighter. Any time I have lost, I tripled the effort," Mr Berlusconi told reporters in Romania, where he was on an official visit.

Final results from the runoff elections held yesterday and on Sunday appeared to support recent opinion polls that have shown his popularity slipping as he faces a trial in Milan in a prostitution scandal.

Critics have said most of his energy has been involved defending himself from charges that he paid for sex with an underage Moroccan teenager then used the premier's office to try to cover it up.

The votes mark a setback for the 74-year-old Mr Berlusconi personally and for his local candidates, analysts say, and will likely raise questions about his leadership.

In Milan, with all polling stations reporting, Mr Berlusconi's candidate, Mayor Letizia Moratti, won about 45% of the vote in the run-off against Giuliano Pisapia of the centre-left. Milan, Italy's financial and fashion capital and Mr Berlusconi's own power base, had been run by conservative mayors for almost two decades.

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The city also is a crucial power base of a key government ally, the Northern League, and the poor showing is likely to deepen rifts between Mr Berlusconi and the League's leader, Umberto Bossi.

The League had been critical of the electoral campaign in Milan and lukewarm toward ms Moratti and it will no doubt be angry about having lost north Italy's most important city. However, Mr Berlusconi said he had spoken by telephone to Mr Bossi and said the government was solid.

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