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Poll shows support for Italy's Berlusconi slipping

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's popularity has fallen three points to 53 percent in a new poll released on Wednesday, carried out after his wife asked for a divorce, accusing him of womanising.

world Updated: May 13, 2009 16:50 IST

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's popularity has fallen three points to 53 percent in a new poll released on Wednesday, carried out after his wife asked for a divorce, accusing him of womanising.

The first proper poll to be published since Berlusconi's second wife Veronica Lario made their differences public early this month also showed the proportion of people voicing little or no confidence in Berlusconi rising 4 points to 46 percent.

The poll, carried out by IPR on May 11-12 on a sample of 1,000 people, showed overall support for Italy's centre-right government slipping 2 points to 44 percent in the past month.

Just 3-1/2 weeks before European Parliament elections, the biggest electoral test for the 72-year-old media mogul since he won a third term a year ago, the poll showed the centre-left opposition Democratic Party gaining two points to 33 percent.

That still puts it far behind the unchanged 50 percent support rating for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, which governs in partnership with the anti-immigrant Northern League.

The survey was commissioned by La Repubblica -- the same centre-left newspaper which Berlusconi has accused of making up stories about him fielding young women candidates for European elections and his relationship with a teenage girl in Naples.

Political analysts say Lario's allegations -- vehemently denied by Berlusconi -- will probably not affect his showing in June's European elections, but could undermine his support among Italy's Roman Catholic majority in the longer term.

The IRP poll also showed support for Berlusconi's economy minister, Giulio Tremonti, edging up 3 points to 58 per cent at a time when media reports say he and Berlusconi have argued about reconstruction funding after April's earthquake.

The prime minister's spokesman has denied the veracity of these reports, which originated in an opposition newspaper.

Berlusconi cites his own privately-commissioned polls giving him a support rating of just over 75 percent, which he says makes him the most popular leader in the world. His support has so far resisted the worst recession since World War Two and was briefly boosted by his hands-on response to the earthquake.