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Italian Election Campaign Ends With Rival Rallies

The two top contenders in Italy's parliamentary election know this is probably their last chance to lead the country. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his challenger, Romano Prodi, have been battling hard to gain votes before polls open Sunday. But many in Italy continue to be undecided as campaigning draws to a close Friday.

The two leading candidates held their final campaign rallies Friday - Prime Minister Berlusconi in Naples and Romano Prodi in Rome.

The prime minister is seeking re-election to another five-year term.

Prodi, a former head of the European Commission, says the past five years have been a disaster, and wants his center-left coalition to be given the chance to fix the situation before it gets any worse.

Over 20 percent of Italians still appear not to have decided who they will vote for, according to pre-election surveys.

But some have no doubts, like Cinzia, who owns a jewelry shop.

"I detest the left and how it works, at least here in Italy," she said. "Maybe abroad it would work better, but, in Italy, I don't like it. Until now, when they have been in power, they did nothing."

She says Italy's difficult economic situation has nothing to do with Berlusconi's government. She says he came to power just as Italy made the switch from the national currency, the lira to the euro, and any government would have had the same troubles.

Many opposed to Berlusconi say his time must come to an end now, because the country needs someone to bring Italy out of a dire economic situation.

And then there are those who feel they are not represented in these elections. They say they cannot identify with either the center-right or the center-left.

One man says he will not vote for either Berlusconi or Prodi, but he fears Berlusconi could win again.

"There is no end to the worst," he said. "People are scared of change."

Foreigners living in Rome say this election campaign is very surprising for a non-Italian. Ashling Byrne, a native of Ireland, has been an international consultant on European Union affairs for 10 years.

"Berlusconi has a very poor international image," he said. "He's not good for Italy from that point of view. Italy has been ridiculed by the rest of the world for the last five years because of this man. However, a lot of what's said about Berlusconi is possibly exaggerated."

Byrne says Italy, as a member of the G-8 needs to improve its economic performance. Prodi, she says, is not convincing. As an EU watcher, she says, during his tenure as head of the European Commission, he did not impress her as a hand-on politician.

Voting will be conducted over two days, Sunday and Monday.