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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK
Rome mayor set to lead new party
Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni votes in Rome on 14 October 2007
The popular Rome mayor is seen by many as Mr Prodi's successor
Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni is heading for a landslide victory in a vote to lead Italy's new centre-left Democratic Party (PD), exit polls indicate.

They give Mr Veltroni, 52, nearly 75% of the votes in Sunday's election.

The party was born after a merger of the Democrats of the Left and the Margherita (Daisy) Party.

The PD's supporters hope it can boost the flagging fortunes of Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition. He is expected to quit politics in 2011.

The PD also aims to become Italy's largest political grouping, overtaking the right-wing Forza Italia of former prime minister and now opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi.

'Unprecedented choice'

Exit polls give Mr Veltroni's closest rival, Families Minister Rosy Bindi, only about 14% of the vote.

Enrico Letta, undersecretary in Mr Prodi's office, was third with some 11%, while two other contenders won less than 1%.

About three million centre-left supporters took part in the poll.

Casting his vote, Mr Veltroni said: "It's a fantastic day for Italian democracy. We have in these primaries chosen to create a new party - a choice absolutely unique and unprecedented in European politics."

If confirmed, the margin of Mr Veltroni's victory would make him the prime candidate to replace Mr Prodi.

Mr Prodi has been pushing for the creation of the PD, in a plan to simplify Italian politics and stabilise his disparate centre-left coalition.

The PD's founding congress is due to be held on 27 October.

Country profile: Italy
04 Oct 07 |  Country profiles
Italian left considers new bloc
20 Apr 07 |  Europe
Prodi wins key lower house vote
02 Mar 07 |  Europe
Italian PM survives Senate vote
28 Feb 07 |  Europe
Profile: Romano Prodi
22 Feb 07 |  Europe

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