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Silvio Berlusconi gains control of four Italian regions

Silvio Berlusconi votes in Milan
Silvio Berlusconi, who voted in Milan, has fared better than expected

The coalition of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made strong gains from the centre-left in regional polls.

Mr Berlusconi's alliance won six of the 13 regions where voting took place, final results show. It previously controlled only two.

The gains came despite a series of recent personal and political scandals involving the prime minister.

The Northern League, a federalist party that opposes immigration, took two regions for the first time.

Officials said turnout had been low by Italy's standards - about 64%, eight percentage points down on the previous regional elections.

Electorate 'disaffected'

Mr Berlusconi said the vote was a recognition of the government's work, and the result would encourage "the reforms needed to modernise and develop our country".

Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani said his Democratic Party would offer support for policies that offered "real solutions" to problems that mattered to Italians, but would otherwise would provide "firm opposition".

Among the victories for Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party and its allies were two extremely close contests in Rome's Lazio region and in northern Piedmont.

REGIONAL POLL RESULTS
PDL wins: Lazio, Calabria, Campania, Lombardy
Northern League wins: Veneto, Piedmont
Centre-left wins: Basilicata, Emilia Romagna, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Umbria

The Northern League - which is allied with the PDL - won in Veneto, as expected, as well as securing the governorship of Piedmont.

It also narrowed the gap on the PDL in Lombardy, the region that includes Milan and Italy's economic heartland.

League leader Umberto Bossi pledged to secure more powers for Italy's wealthy northern regions following his party's gains.

"The left no longer exists in the north," he said.

The vote leaves the opposition centre-left in control of seven of the 13 regions, down from 11.

The turnout - the lowest in 15 years - was a clear sign that Italian voters were disaffected with politics, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on Monday.

"We should see to it that participation is stronger in the next elections in three years," he said.

Mr Berlusconi had already suffered a turbulent 2009, marked by allegations about his friendship with a teenage model and about escort girls attending parties at his residences.

His wife also filed for divorce, and he suffered a broken nose when a man threw a model of Milan cathedral at his face.

Last week, Italian media said the prime minister was being investigated for allegedly trying to pressure the communications watchdog to block state TV chat shows critical of his government.

Some 41 million Italians - two-thirds of the population - were eligible to vote in the election.

Map showing Italian regional election results



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Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
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