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Contested ballots not enough to swing Italian vote

Written by: Staff

ROME, Apr 14 (Reuters) The number of contested ballots being checked after Italy's knife-edge general election is just 2,131, the Interior Ministry today said not enough to swing the victory back to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The ministry said in a statement it had made a mistake when it initially estimated the ballots in question for the lower house of parliament were some 43,000.

A spokesman for centre-left leader Romano Prodi, who won the April 9, 10 election in the lower house by just 24,000 votes, said the latest figures meant the victory was secure.

''It seems that we have won the election,'' the spokesman said. ''Two thousand (ballots) can't change the result.'' Berlusconi has so far refused to concede defeat, saying the contested ballots could swing the result back his way and alleging that his centre-right alliance had fallen foul of widespread vote fraud.

The centre-left spokesman said the next step would be an official confirmation of the election results by the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest court for legal appeals.

That is not expected to come before next week at the earliest, a court official said earlier today.

The prime minister's press office declined comment on the Interior Ministry statement, but pointed out that all the election data is still only ''preliminary'' ahead of the official court confirmation.

Reuters SI BST1809

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