Page last updated at 20:12 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 21:12 UK

Berlusconi 'wins' Italy election

Silvio Berlusconi votes in Milan on 11 April 2008
Silvio Berlusconi is heading for a third term in office

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi is set to win Italy's general election, partial results suggest.

The projected results showed Mr Berlusconi's coalition ahead for both the lower house and the Senate.

The 71-year old told Italian TV difficult months lay ahead. His main rival, the centre-left leader Walter Veltroni, has already conceded victory.

The vote was held three years ahead of schedule after the collapse of Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition.

'Affectionate kiss'

Mr Berlusconi said in a telephone call to public television: "We have difficult months ahead that will require great strength."

According to Ansa news agency, before ringing off, he added: "An affectionate kiss to all Italians."

With the economy a key election issue, both men had promised modest tax cuts and reductions in bureaucracy.

Centre-right bloc 45%;
centre-left bloc 39% (Rai)
Centre-right bloc 46.5%;
centre-left bloc 37.7% (Ipsos)
Centre-right bloc 164 seats;
centre-left bloc 139 (Rai)
Centre-right bloc 47.2%;
centre-left bloc 38.1% (Ipsos)

A projection on RAI state TV showed Mr Berlusconi 6% ahead in the lower house Chamber of Deputies. The channel projected that he would win 164 seats in the Senate, compared to 139 for his rivals.

Another projection gave Mr Berlusconi a lead of about 9% in both houses of parliament.

Official results may not be issued until Tuesday.

If victory is confirmed, billionaire Mr Berlusconi will take up a third term in office.

Neither of the main contenders can hope for an overall majority without the help of their allies or other minor parties, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

Tricky coalition talks are expected in the coming days.

The next government faces the task of reviving Italy's ailing economy, with zero growth forecast for the coming year.

Massive debt

Although Italy faces a massive public debt, both candidates promised tax cuts and handouts to voters.

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

Walter Veltroni concedes defeat in Rome on 14 April 2008
Mr Veltroni narrowed Mr Berlusconi's lead in polls but it was not enough

Some 158 different parties contested the regional and national polls, including Mr Berlusconi's new conservative People of Freedom (PDL) and Mr Veltroni's recently formed Democratic Party (PD).

At the start of the campaign, opinion polls gave Mr Berlusconi's bloc a commanding lead, but it had narrowed as the election drew near.

At 80%, the final turnout appears to have been lower than in the last election, two years ago.

Mr Berlusconi has served two terms as prime minister, last resigning in May 2006.

One of Italy's richest men, he is the head of a business empire that spans media, advertising, insurance, food and construction and includes the top flight football club AC Milan.

Mr Veltroni is a former communist who served for seven years as mayor of Rome before taking over the leadership of the centre-left coalition led by Mr Prodi after his government collapsed in January.

The new government will be Italy's 62nd since World War II.

Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
08 Apr 08 |  Europe
Profile: Walter Veltroni
10 Apr 08 |  Europe
Sicilians grow defiant of Mafia
11 Apr 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
06 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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