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  Italy Going Back Down Dictatorship Road
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said a victory by his opponents in the April 9 election would be a "risk'' to democracy, as he announced an alliance with Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The opposition coalition, if elected, "risks suffocating democracy,'' Berlusconi, 69, told reporters in Rome today, saying that Mussolini's Social Alternative party would join his House of Freedoms alliance. "We haven't yet seen a complete victory of democratic forces over the post-communist threat.''

Independent polls show that Berlusconi's coalition is trailing the opposition Union alliance led by former European Commission President Romano Prodi, 66, by between 4 and 5 percentage points. Both groupings are adding small parties to their alliances as a way to pick up votes.

The granddaughter of Benito Mussolini last year quit the National Alliance party, the second-biggest in the House of Freedoms alliance, after its leader Gianfranco Fini called fascism "an absolute evil'' during a visit to Israel. Mussolini, 43, defends the fascist government led by her grandfather from 1922 to 1943 and the party's Web site promotes "valuing and strengthening the people's tradition and culture.''

"This alliance is made out of expediency to try to get as many votes as possible,'' Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said in a telephone interview. "It's the traditional way of doing politics in Italy.''

The prime minister regularly characterizes the opposition as "communists'' in his campaign speeches, saying their ideology will limit freedom and democracy. The nine groupings in Prodi's Union coalition include two communist parties and the Democrats of the Left, a former communist party.

Berlusconi, citing a poll commissioned by his own party, says his coalition has now overtaken Prodi's. All of the more than two dozen polls commissioned by news organizations since the start of the year show Berlusconi's bloc trailing.

Prodi's Union coalition would win 51 percent of the popular vote compared with 47 percent for Berlusconi's grouping, TNS Abacus polling company said yesterday in a survey carried out for SkyTG24 TV channel. The pollster interviewed 1,000 adults on Feb. 13 and 14. There margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.
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