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Berlusconi's allies cast doubt on his fraud claim

Written by: Staff
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ROME, Apr 13 (Reuters) Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi looked isolated today as allies cast doubt on his claims the Italian general election had been rigged and one coalition partner said a review of the ballot would change nothing.

Berlusconi has demanded that the result of the April 9-10 vote, which handed centre-left rival Romano Prodi a tiny majority, should be overturned because of ''widespread'' fraud.

Newspapers reported today that Berlusconi wanted a recount of more than one million votes, but a political source said President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi had refused to grant the necessary permission.

Prodi told Reuters television his election victory would be rubber-stamped shortly.

''Well, he (Berlusconi) is unable to lose, to admit that we won.

He will never do (it). He is absolutely unable to admit the truth,'' Prodi said outside his house in the northern Italian city of Bologna.

''It's not a surprise but, you know, it is only a problem of a few days in which everything will be stamped,'' he added, speaking English.

Uncertainty over the political situation has hurt Italian bonds and depressed the Milan stock market.

Looking to calm the tensions, some senior centre-right allies said they saw nothing especially untoward about the election, which was the closest in modern Italian history.

''(Vote) checks have always been made, but I don't think they will change the result of this election,'' said Lorenzo Cesa, head of the centrist Union of Christian Democrats (UDC), one of the four core parties in Berlusconi's coalition.

''IRREGULARITIES'' Ignazio La Russa, a leading figure in the conservative National Alliance party, also distanced himself from accusations of deliberate wrongdoing.

MORE REUTERS SHB PM1947

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