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Berlusconi Refused to Concede Defeat in General Election
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The center-right coalition of Premier Silvio Berlusconi refused to concede defeat on Tuesday in Italy's knife-edge election, demanding checks on spoilt voting slips and even a possible recount.

Earlier in the day, center left opposition chief Romano Prodi claimed victory in the Sunday and Monday vote after the tally showed his coalition had squeaked past the center right.

But Sandro Bondi, coordinator for Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, told reporters that "Prodi hasn't won a blessed thing. The fact that he has declared himself the winner shows that he is a politician without any institutional sense."

In the Lower House, the center left won 49.8 percent compared to the center right's 49.73 percent, a margin of just some 25,000 votes.

The center right initially appeared to have won the Senate but the addition this morning of results from the votes cast by Italians resident abroad swung the chamber marginally in Prodi's favor, leading the former European Commission chief to declare victory.

But the Interior Ministry stressed in a statement that the election figures were still "provisional and not official".

Given the narrowness of the vote, center-right politicians demanded that the disputed ballots be re-examined while others called for a total recount.

The Interior Ministry stressed that it was up to the Supreme Court to declare the election outcome and that it could not be officially called until the court had done so.

Forza Italia heavyweight Renato Schifani said that "we know that we have not lost these elections politically. We won with more than 300-350,000 votes in the Senate and lost by some 23,000 in the Lower House with 45,000 disputed slips and many more voided because of anomalies."

"With regard to the final outcome, I think it would be wise to wait for the Supreme Court and the normal checking procedures that are being carried out by the electoral authorities," he said.

"Prodi should acknowledge that Berlusconi has not lost and that half of the country backs the premier," he added.

Italian Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno said that "in cases like this, I think a recount is indispensable because with a margin of 0.01 percent, not repeating the count would be unfair to Italians."

If the center right succeeds in obtaining a recount, it could take several weeks before an official result is given.

Berlusconi spent the morning out of sight, huddled away in consultation with his coalition allies.

A source close to his House of Liberties coalition said the summit focused on a possible recount, contested slips and checks to ensure that vote data had been correctly transmitted.

"They are not talking about fraud of course, just the usual verification of normal errors that might have taken place during the voting," the source said.

Meanwhile, Prodi said he was waiting for a phone call from Berlusconi conceding defeat.

When asked by reporters about the center right's call for a recount and the examination of disputed slips, Prodi said that "if the House of Liberties wants to contest the outcome then it may do so. We're not worried."

(Xinhua News Agency April 12, 2006)

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