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Rome - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has suffered a crushing defeat at Italian regional elections, official results have shown, a huge boost for centre-left leader Romano Prodi's hopes of unseating him next year.
In what one of his defeated regional governors described as a massacre, Berlusconi's centre-right coalition appeared to have lost 11 of the 13 regions at stake, holding on to just two - Lombardy and Veneto - both in its stronghold in the north.
Prodi, who had said he would be satisfied by winning just one new seat, was delighted by his landslide victory.
"With this vote Italians are asking us to prepare to govern, to take the country forward," he told a news conference.
Berlusconi had prepared his supporters for a poor result, saying he expected a mid-term backlash due to Italy's economic woes.
But the outcome was far worse than expected.
Although the final count would not be finished until Tuesday, late preliminary results indicated the centre-left had wrested at least six regions from government parties, giving it control of 15 of Italy's 20 regions. - Reuters