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Berlusconi demands recount in tight vote

Prodi elected over mogul-turned-premier

Silvio Berlusconi’s center-left challenger Romano Prodi won the Italian national elections by a razor-thin margin Tuesday. But the combative mogul-turned-premier is demanding a recount.

Final returns showed Prodi, an economics professor and former EU Commission chief, winning the lower chamber by one-tenth of a percentage point — 49.8% to 49.7%. That automatically gives the center-left 341 of 630 seats, with 277 going to the Berlusconi camp. The Prodi-led coalition has a one-seat lead in the upper Senate house.

“Today we turn a page,” Prodi told reporters, adding that he was expecting Berlusconi to concede defeat.

But that did not happen.

“We will concede our political adversary’s victory only after verification procedures have been completed,” Berlusconi said. “Nobody can say they have won yet.”

The result was decided by 25,000 votes in an election that saw 84% of the country’s 47 million voters flock to the polls.

Berlusconi’s allies have demanded checks on half a million ballots deemed spoiled because they were improperly cast, drawing comparisons to George W. Bush and the contentious Florida vote in 2000.

The country’s split vote is expected to create a weak government gripped by political gridlock.

With 23% of the vote going to Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Let’s Go Italy) party, he still leads the country’s largest political force.

Analysts said that means Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire — which has seen profit margins grow four-fold during his stint as premier — has little to fear from a new regime. Mediaset stock rose steadily on the Milan bourse Tuesday on news of the tight outcome.

For Italy’s arts and entertainment community, a center-left government is expected to restore subsidies, which had been drastically cut under Berlusconi.

But with such a minuscule margin separating the candidates, celebration parties planned by many anti-Berlusconi artists have been canceled.

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