Berlusconi suffers crushing local election defeats

Berlusconi`s coalition has suffered a humiliating defeat in mayoral elections in Milan and Naples.

Milan: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi`s
coalition has suffered a humiliating defeat in mayoral elections in Milan and Naples, casting doubt over the legally embattled Italian leader`s future.

Left-wing lawyer Giuliano Pisapia triumphed in Milan
against Letizia Moratti from Berlusconi`s People of Freedom
party, ending the right`s 18-year hold on the city and dealing
a heavy blow to the Italian premier in his home town.

Pisapia garnered 55.10 percent of the vote, while
Moratti won 44.89 percent in the second round of a mayoral
vote held on Sunday and Monday.

In Naples, which was already controlled by the left,
Luigi De Magistris, a former prosecutor, also won out against
his rival with 65.37 per cent.

The centre-right lost other votes in Cagliari, Novara
and Trieste but the defeat in Milan -- Italy`s economic
capital -- was seen as the most symbolically significant and a
bellwether for anti-Berlusconi sentiment.

"I am delighted! This is an awakening of consciences
that have been asleep during years of incivility, of an
absence of culture," said Giovanna Cardarelli, 55, in a crowd
of thousands rallying in front of Milan cathedral.

Berlusconi had actively campaigned on Moratti`s behalf
and declared the vote should be seen as a test of his
popularity, which has been falling after a series of legal and
sex scandals and continued weakness in the economy.

Berlusconi`s trial on charges of having sex with an
underage prostitute and abuse of power is to resume in Milan
tomorrow, although he will not attend.

Analysts say the defeat will put pressure on the
coalition between Berlusconi and the Northern League party,
which has shown signs of growing disenchantment with the prime
minister`s leadership in recent weeks.


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