Berlusconi’s last minute plea

Mr Berlusconi oozed confidence in front of thousands of his supporters who turned out to Naples’ Piazza del Plebicito which became a sea of flags of the Forza Italia party.

Celebrated as a skilled communicator, the 69-year-old prime minister worked the crowd as supporters chanted “Silvio, Silvio, Silvio”.

“We are all here together like a real army of freedom,” Mr Berulsconi told the rally.

He said the country faced a fundamental choice between “an Italy of tax, an Italy of pessimism” and “an Italy of freedom and rights, of tolerance … above all an Italy of love -that’s our Italy.”

The challenger

In Rome, meanwhile, Romano Prodi staged a rally with about 15,000 supporters in Piazza del Popolo shouting “Romano, Romano, Romano.”

The former economics professor is in stark contrast to his flamboyant rival but has pledged reform in the country’s economy that is only projected to grow by just 1.3 percent this year.

The nation’s budget deficit is expected to hit 3.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

“I want to address all Italians, a country that has been divided,” said the 66-year-old Mr Romano. “We have a need, we have a desperate need for unity.”

At the rally he was flanked by leaders of key parties in his centre-left Union coalition, including Piero Fassino of the Democrats of the Left and Franceso Rutelli, Margherita party.

Bitter campaining

With electioneering now over Italy will take a compulsory day of reflection before heading to the polls, which maybe highly needed as surveys show about 25 percent of eligible voters are still undecided.

It’s been a tumultuous campaign period punctuated by an exchange of insults from both sides.

Mr Berlusconi has compared his leftist opponents to Stalin and Pol Pot, and labeled Mr Prodi’s supporters as “coglione”, the Italian word for testicles which is used as slang to call someone an “idiot”.

But opponents of the Prime Minister have turned the slur against him by wearing T-shirts proudly proclaiming “I’m a coglione”.

“Berlusconi’s the coglione,” said 71-year-old Mara Ferri at the start of Mr Prodi’s final election rally.

“He thinks he can stay on as the boss of Italy, but we won’t be part of his plans. We want a clean and honest Italy. I’m prepared to pay higher taxes to see the back of him.”

Railway worker Luigi Cifa, 48, agreed: “If being coglione means wanting to pay higher taxes and respecting the law, then I’m coglione.”

Polling stations will open on Sunday morning and the vote will continue through Monday.

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