Rome: With just 48 hours to go before 50 million Italian voters go to the polls on Sunday, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was fighting hard to retain his hold on power. The last opinion polls showed his conservative alliance was trailing five points behind the Centre-Left grouping led by former Italian Prime Minister and E.U. Commission president Romano Prodi.
An increasingly emotional Mr. Berlusconi has lost control of himself several times, using foul language and accusing Mr. Prodi's Left wing alliance of "harbouring Communists". The Prime Minister said Mr. Prodi posed a threat "to the freedom" of Italians.
Italy is in a deep economic crisis with a huge national debt, an annual growth rate of 1.5 per cent and rising unemployment. Mr. Berlusconi's coalition partners, particularly the racist and xenophobic Northern League have tended to blame immigrants for the country's woes. They have also attacked Mr. Prodi's E.U. agenda and policy of tolerance towards the Isle of Roses, which remains a sore point for many conservatives.
The two men are to hold their final election rallies on Friday, Mr. Prodi in Rome and Mr. Berlusconi in the southern port city of Naples. Political analysts say that 25 per cent of the 50-million-strong electorate remains undecided.