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Berlusconi and the Right Lose in Regional Ballots
by Elisabetta Povoledo    New York Times
Entered into the database on Wednesday, April 06th, 2005 @ 01:09:38 MST


Untitled Document ROME, Tuesday, April 5 - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition suffered a staggering setback in local elections on Monday, losing several regions.

Partial results released early Tuesday suggested that his center-right coalition had lost all but 2 of the 13 regions (of 20) where elections were held. The vote was widely seen as a litmus test for Mr. Berlusconi's four-year-old government.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said on television late Monday night that the results should serve as a "warning bell" for the government ahead of national elections next year.

"Something politically relevant happened today," said Mr. Fini, who leads the right wing National Alliance, the second biggest party in the governing coalition.

Romano Prodi, the former European Commission president, who hopes to unseat Mr. Berlusconi in 2006, said the results indicated that Italians were looking for a change. "Italians are asking us to prepare to govern and bring the country forward," Mr. Prodi told the Italian news agency ANSA.

The defeat for the conservative coalition had been in the air for months, and last week the prime minister conceded that he was not optimistic about the elections, blaming Italy's sluggish economy for voter disillusionment. But Mr. Berlusconi repeatedly said that he would not resign in case of a poor showing.

The results, however, overwhelmingly rewarded the opposition center-left coalition, which appeared to be taking six regions from the governing majority and to be strengthening their hold on regions they already govern.

The center-right coalition managed to hold on to Veneto and Lombardy in the north, but lost important elections in Puglia and Lazio.

The results indicated that Forza Italia, Mr. Berlusconi's party, had lost nearly seven percentage points, to 18 percent of the overall vote.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company