Italy conducts local elections in test for parties

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ROME: Italians began voting in local elections on Sunday that will test political parties three months from a general election that left no clear winner and a month after the start of a fragile coalition Cabinet.

The focus is on the Italian capital Rome where incumbent right-wing Mayor Gianni Alemanno is running virtually neck-and-neck in the most recent opinion polls with leftist challenger Ignazio Marino.

The polls are also a key bellwether of support for the antiestablishment Five Star Movement, which won a quarter of the vote in national elections but has appeared to lose ground since then.

Polling stations will reopen on Monday for a second day of voting and close at 1300 GMT, with preliminary results expected later in the day.

Second-round run-off votes will be held on June 9 to 10, with most analysts predicting the Rome mayoral race will not be won on the first round.

Alemanno has come under fire in the Eternal City for traffic-clogged streets, a waste disposal crisis and a drop in tourist arrivals.

He has defended himself saying he inherited a debt-riddled city from leftist mayors before him and pointing to key projects he has backed.

Marino has promised to do more to improve public transport and to ease the social crisis brought on by record-high unemployment levels in the city.

The elections affect 564 local authorities, including the cities of Ancona, Brescia, Pisa and Siena—many of them facing similar problems brought on by a grinding recession.

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