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Berlusconi pledges new era for Italy

ROME, Italy -- Silvio Berlusconi has promised "a new era" for Italians after the victory of his centre-right bloc in the Italian elections.

As he arrived at his estate outside Milan, a statement was handed out by his aides, which read: "I am convinced that you all feel the need for a government that governs and of a premier who speaks less and works more and better."

"A new era begins for all Italians," he told reporters.

There was no estimate when vote counting would be completed, but former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli, leading the left wing Olive Tree coalition, told a press conference that Berlusconi had achieved a "legitimate victory" in Sunday's often chaotic election.

Rutelli said he would now concentrate on creating a "responsible and determined opposition" and would press Berlusconi to clear up possible conflicts of interest.

 VIDEO
One analyst calls Italy's current election campaign 'undoubtedly the dirtiest since 1948.' CNN's Alessio Vinci reports

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CNN's Alessio Vinci: Berlusconi's conflict of interests needs to be solved straight away

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Berlusconi to form coalition government

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Rutelli concedes defeat

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CNN's Robin Oakley: A battle of personalities over policies

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 BIG PICTURE
Italian election has wider European repercussions
 
 ELECTION WATCH
Italian parliamentary elections
 

The official results show Berlusconi's centre-right coalition with 177 seats and Rutelli's centre-left coalition with 125 in the 324 member Senate.

Preliminary results also put Berlusconi comfortably ahead in the 630-seat lower house.

With most precincts counted for the larger Chamber of Deputies, Berlusconi's bloc has at least 282 of the 630 seats, while the centre-left could count on 184 - 316 would secure a majority.

Final results for this chamber are not expected until Tuesday but projections indicate Berlusconi will take between 330-365 seats, while the centre-left looks set to win 250 to 280.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia party also won decisively in the Milan mayoral race, but races for mayor in other big cities, such as Rome and Naples, appeared to be heading for runoffs.

The Casa delle liberta (House of Liberties) coalition -- made up of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the far-right National Alliance, the subcoaliton Biancofiore, and the devolutionist Northern League -- needs a majority in both houses before President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi can give it a mandate to form Italy's next government.

Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, owns the soccer team AC Milan as well as Italy's three main private TV networks and has promised Italians deep tax cuts, higher pensions and 1.5 million new jobs, although he has been vague about the details.

Amid heavy criticism during the campaign he hinted that may create a blind trust for his media empire, which is estimated to be worth $12 billion.

But analysts say the big question hanging over Berlusconi's victory is the extent to which he will have to rely on support from the Northern League, which deserted his last administration after just seven months in 1994.

Italy's European Union allies have already expressed unease over the League's Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant leanings.

The results of the election -- in which more than 80 percent of the eligible 49.5 million Italians turned out -- have been delayed by a combination of slow counting and a complex proportional representation system.

Italy's outgoing Interior Minister, Enzo Bianco, has apologised for the voting chaos that saw long queues with some polling stations remaining open six hours beyond their scheduled closure.

The number of polling stations had been cut by a third to try and save money.

The markets have been looking for a clear electoral victor to avoid the political instability that has plagued the country, with the new government being Italy's 59th since World War II.



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