Italy urges high turnout in key election for euro zone

Sat Feb 23, 2013 4:18pm EST
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By Catherine Hornby

ROME (Reuters) - Italy pressed citizens to get out and vote in one of the most closely watched elections in years on Sunday and Monday, with markets on edge at the prospect of a political stalemate that could reignite the debt crisis.

A campaigning ban kicked in the day before the vote but center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, on trial for a sex crime, broke the rules to launch an attack on magistrates, saying on Saturday that claims he held "Bunga Bunga" parties were a sham.

Comedian-turned-campaigner Beppe Grillo had stolen the spotlight during final rallies on Friday evening, attracting hundreds of thousands to a central Rome square to hear his furious tirades against corrupt politicians and bankers.

The Interior Ministry urged some 47 million eligible voters to head to the polls and said it had made preparations for bad weather, including snow in some regions, to ensure that everyone could have the chance to cast their ballot.

"Elections are a fundamental moment for a democracy and we want all our citizens to experience them in the best way possible," Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said in a video posted on the ministry's website.

Final polls two weeks ago showed center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani with a five-point lead, but analysts disagree about whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can push through the economic reforms Italy needs to exit recession.

Bersani is now thought to be just a few points ahead of Berlusconi, the former prime minister who has promised tax refunds and staged a media blitz to regain support.

On Saturday the 76-year-old tycoon, who faces several trials on charges ranging from fraud to sex with an underage prostitute, broke the campaign silence, accusing Italy's magistrates of inventing crimes to discredit him abroad.   Continued...

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi smiles as he appears as a guest on the RAI television show Porta a Porta (Door to Door) in Rome February 22, 2013. REUTERS/Remo Casilli