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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 17:50 GMT
Berlusconi courts Mussolini party
Silvio Berlusconi and Alessandra Mussolini
Silvio Berlusconi and Alessandra Mussolini have teamed up
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made an alliance with the party of the granddaughter of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Alessandra Mussolini has agreed to withdraw from the elections, along with the leaders of two neo-fascist parties.

Rival candidate in the April elections, Romano Prodi, meanwhile, is said to have promised posts to the communists if his centre-left Union wins the vote.

Mr Berlusconi has denied embracing the far-right as a bid to bolster support.

"We have reached an accord on the programme between the House of Freedoms and Alternativa Sociale," he told a joint news conference.

Ms Mussolini's move apparently came after Mr Berlusconi urged her not to include certain people on her electoral list - such as candidates from the Forza Nuova (New Force) and the Fronte Sociale Nazionale (National Social Front).

'No bribe'

Meanwhile, Mr Berlusconi is expected to face fresh corruption charges next month in the run-up to the elections.

Magistrates claim the prime minister paid David Mills, a corporate lawyer and the husband of the British Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, $600,000 (504,000 euros; 344,000) in 1997 to lie in court.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome says the fresh allegations could spell trouble for the Italian prime minister, who can ill-afford the sort of headlines associated with corruption charges a few weeks before the election.

Last week, the London offices of Mr Mills, Mr Berlusconi's former legal adviser, were raided by British police, who removed computer equipment and files.

The magistrates allege the payment to Mr Mills' Swiss bank account was for giving false testimony in two corruption cases involving the prime minister.

Mr Mills admits receiving the money but claims it came from Mr Berlusconi's cousin, who at the time worked for Fininvest, the company owned by the prime minister. It was a payment to say "thank-you", he said, not a bribe.

Both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills have denied the charges.

Mr Berlusconi's lawyer said he was confident both men would be acquitted.

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