Page last updated at 22:08 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 23:08 UK

Italy poll rivals make final push

Silvio Berlusconi (left, AP photo) and Walter Veltroni (Getty photo) - both on 10/4/2008
Both candidates have promised to revitalise Italy's economy

Italy's main rivals for the premiership have wrapped up campaigning ahead of national and regional elections.

At a final rally in Rome, centre-left candidate Walter Veltroni, 52, urged tens of thousands of supporters to serve Italy with honour.

Billionaire businessman and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, 71, wants a third term as prime minister.

Both candidates have promised change, but correspondents say deep economic problems restrict what they can offer.

After a day off from campaigning on Saturday, voters go to the polls on Sunday and Monday to choose from 158 different parties contesting regional and national elections.

Italy's 62nd election in 63 years comes three years early, after Romano Prodi stepped down as prime minister when his coalition government collapsed in January.

'Highest honour'

At his final rally in Rome, Mr Veltroni called for Italians to love their country.

Voters' views from Palermo

"We need to serve Italy and feel that this is an honour," the former mayor of Rome said to an estimated 40,000 supporters.

"If I become prime minister this will be the highest honour and I would carry out my role with energy, strength and determination and desire to change this country... because this country needs change."

Mr Berlusconi made his final campaign appearance on late-night Italian TV. He repeated his accusation that Mr Veltroni has run "a campaign of lies".

Mr Berlusconi has previously said that Mr Veltroni's newly-formed Democratic Party is a new label for Italy's communists.

At his final rally on Thursday, he appealed to his supporters to bring in more voters in order to give him the parliamentary majority to make the tough changes he said Italy needs.

Economy slipping

Mr Berlusconi is the head of a business empire that spans media, advertising, insurance, food and construction and includes the successful football club AC Milan.

He is also leading a new party into the polls - the conservative People of Freedom (PDL).

Although Italy faces a massive public debt, both candidates have promised tax cuts and handouts to voters, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome.

Italy's economy has been slipping in the face of low productivity and a strong euro and analysts say young people, pensioners and low-income workers are feeling the pressure.

Whichever candidate is declared the winner on Monday, both know that a period of painful political and economic reforms is essential and unavoidable, our correspondent says.

Profile: Walter Veltroni
10 Apr 08 |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
08 Apr 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles
Berlusconi spurns coalition bid
04 Feb 08 |  Europe

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