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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 22:42 GMT 23:42 UK
Insults fly in Italy poll debate
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Romano Prodi (left) and Silvio Berlusconi before their TV debate on 03/04
Italy's PM Silvio Berlusconi and rival Romano Prodi have gone head-to-head in the second and final televised debate ahead of Sunday's elections.

The debate was dominated by the economy as Mr Berlusconi sought to claw back ground he has lost.

More than 15m people watched the first debate two weeks ago, which centre-left Mr Prodi was deemed to have won.

This debate was a far more combative exchange, which eventually spilled over into open confrontation.

The election campaign has been acrimonious throughout.

At every turn there have been insults, and at times it has been a pretty ugly spectacle.

Monday's debate began with a question over whether the campaign could have been held in a better spirit.

"You're right, we should try to be more friendly," said Mr Prodi.

'Useful idiot'

But within 20 minutes the debate had descended into open confrontation.

Mr Prodi said: "The prime minister clings to data in the way a drunkard clings to lamp-posts - not for illumination, but to keep him standing up."

Mr Berlusconi replied: "I will not accept that. Have a little respect for the prime minister.

"Let me return Prodi's remark about the drunk by saying that Prodi is like a useful idiot - he lends his cheery parish priest face to the left, which is 70% made up of former communists."

No-one knows how much impact these live debates have on the final vote, but for Silvio Berlusconi, this was maybe a final chance.

Before polling was completed he was judged to be five points behind.

The focus over the next few days will be convincing 25% of the electorate that is still undecided - it is that section of the vote that will decide the result.

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