Berlusconi sweeps back to power in Italy election

Mon Apr 14, 2008 7:59pm EDT
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By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi has won his third Italian election with a bigger than expected swing to the centre right, but the media magnate said it would not be easy to solve deep economic problems.

Votes were still being counted on Tuesday, but with Berlusconi's victory clear on Monday evening, centre-left leader Walter Veltroni called the 71-year-old to concede defeat.

After two years in opposition, Berlusconi is expected to return to Rome from his home in northern Italy later on Tuesday, although for procedural reasons he is unlikely to be appointed prime minister before early May.

A strong mandate should enable Berlusconi to push reforms through parliament, but many Italians are disillusioned with politics and doubt any government can quickly cure the ills of Italy's fourth-largest economy.

"The months and years ahead will be difficult and I am preparing a government ready to last five years," Berlusconi told state television in a live phone call on Monday night.

He said his priorities were settling the future of state-controlled Alitalia, which the outgoing administration was struggling to privatize, and clean up a long-standing garbage crisis in Naples.

Berlusconi's pledges include cutting taxes while reducing public debt, liberalizing the economy and getting tough on crime. But critics say he failed to carry out pledges to revolutionize Italy when prime minister for seven months from April 1994 and from 2001-2006.

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<p>Italy's centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi appears on the 'Matrix' television programme at Channel 5 studios in Rome, April 11, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Di Meo/Pool</p>