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Berlusconi win raises troubling questions

ROME (Reuters) — After winning a stunning victory in Italy’s general elections Monday, right-wing media mogul Silvio Berlusconi immediately began the difficult search for a strong government to lead the country away from its corrupt past.

Riding a tide of public revulsion and a yearning for renewal after two years of unremitting political scandal, Berlusconi stormed to a runaway victory with his neo-fascist and federalist allies.

Among others elected to office were Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the fascist dictator and niece of Sophia Loren, and director Franco Zeffirelli.

Berlusconi’s “Freedom Alliance” took an absolute majority of 366 seats in the 630-member Chamber of Deputies and a qualified majority of 155 in the Senate, according to official returns.

Newspapers reflected the widespread astonishment at Berlusconi’s stunning success only two months after he entered politics in a slick, made-for-television crusade against the left.

The 57-year-old billionaire pledged to make “every personal sacrifice necessary” to hold together the fractious alliance and form a government to put his free-market pledges into action.

But a head-on clash between far-right leader Gianfranco Fini and Umberto Bossi of the Northern League loomed over the key question of who should be prime minister. As the leader of the top vote-getting party, Berlusconi is considered a likely contender for the post.

Nervous investors sold Italian stocks and bonds Tuesday as initial enthusiasm for Berlusconi’s victory cooled amid fears that squabbling in the alliance would make it difficult to form a new government and keep the country’s budget deficit under control.

Leaders of Italy’s European neighbors, sensing trouble ahead, joined the financial markets in urging Berlusconi to ensure Italy’s 53rd postwar government was strong and stable.

A new prime minister cannot be chosen until parliament meets for the first time April 15.

The election result was a crushing defeat for former communist Achille Occhetto, who seemed assured of victory until Berlusconi burst onto the scene just two months ago.

Occhetto’s broad left-wing Progressive group was a distant second with 213 seats in the lower house. Of the remainder, 46 went to a small centrist alliance including the rump of the disgraced Christian Democrats.

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