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Projections suggest mixed result for Berlusconi

 Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi casts his ballot in Milan, Italy, Sunday, May 15, 2011. Italians are voting in mayoral races, an election that Prem...

Italy Elections

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi casts his ballot in Milan, Italy, Sunday, May 15, 2011. Italians are voting in mayoral races, an election that Prem...

Premier Silvio Berlusconi suffered a setback in his power base of Milan on Monday after two days of local voting across Italy largely seen as a test of popularity for the scandal-hit leader, projections and early returns suggest.
Berlusconi scored mixed results. But in the most significant race, the premier's candidate for Milan mayor was trailing slightly behind her center-left opponent, the projections and returns suggested. If confirmed, the result would force a run-off and be a major blow to Berlusconi, who had campaigned hard to get his candidate, the incumbent mayor, re-elected at the first round.
Milan hosts Berlusconi's media empire, football club and private residence, and his coalition has run the city of 1.3 million people, Italy's financial and fashion capital, for about 15 years.
Stefano Folli, a leading political analyst, said that, if confirmed, the result would be seen as a vote against Berlusconi, rather than just his candidate. "It was him who put his stamp on the campaign in Milan, it was him who said this was a referendum" on the government, Folli said.
Hit by a sex scandal and several corruption cases, Berlusconi had turned the polling into a personal issue by calling on Italians to vote for his candidates as a way to their signal support for his national government. The premier is also facing tensions within his coalition, with key government partner the Northern League unhappy over Italy's involvement in the NATO-led campaign in Libya. Another one-time ally has also split with Berlusconi's party and abandoned the coalition.
The projections released Monday by state TV RAI were based on about a quarter of the sample and had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The returns were based on just a few stations reporting. Analysts warned that the final results, not expected until Tuesday, might be significantly different from these early figures, also changing any political repercussions.
In another closely watched race, Berlusconi's candidate was well ahead of his opponents in Naples, the southern city plagued by a recurring garbage-collection crisis. Berlusconi deployed soldiers last week to help collect piles of trash and wrapped up his election campaign there on Friday, hoping to snatch the city away after several terms by center-left mayors.
The voting Sunday and Monday was considered significant because about 13 million voters _ nearly a quarter of the Italian population _ were eligible to cast ballots. It was also the first electoral test for Berlusconi since the 74-year-old premier went on trial for allegedly buying sex from an underage prostitute.
The allegation is one of four legal cases presently active against Berlusconi, and the sole case dealing with his private life, not his business interests.
The premier has denied wrongdoing in all cases and has recently attended Milan courtrooms to defend himself, as he did Monday.
In other important races, in Turin _ an industrial city that is home to the Fiat auto giant _ projections showed the center-left candidate appeared headed to a first-round victory, as had been expected. In Bologna, the center-left candidate was also ahead.
Berlusconi's opponents controlled both cities going into the vote, and were largely expected to keep them.
Run-offs will be held may 29-30 in any races where candidates fail to get more than 50 percent of the vote.