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Local elections in Italy present disappointing results for Renzi's PD party

In regional governor elections in Italy, the ruling Democratic Party appears to have performed below expectations. The results could hamper Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his ambitious reform agenda.

Italy's local elections on Sunday presented the biggest test for Renzi's center-left government since last year's European elections .

Projections showed Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) with 22.6 percent of the overall vote in seven regions, ahead of the 5-Star Movement on 19.6 percent, the Northern League on 12.9 percent and Forza Italia on 10.3 percent. Full results are expected on Monday.

From initial results after Sunday's poll, the PD looked set to win in the central regions of Tuscany and Marche, and the southern region of Puglia. It was also just ahead in the Campania region around Naples and in Umbria. In all, seven of Italy's 20 regions voted for governors.

Renzi's government needed a convincing result to maintain momentum for labor, education and constitutional reforms which have been opposed by trade unions, the political opposition and the left wing of the PD.

In the northwestern region of Liguria, the PD vote was split by a faction of the party complaining about what it saw as Renzi's overbearing leadership style. The 5-Star Movement of former comic Beppe Grillo looked set to take the largest share of the vote of any single party in Liguria, in Campania and Puglia.

The anti-immigrant Northern League, which linked with former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, seemed likely to extend its influence in Liguria. The League also appeared to be doing well in Tuscany as well as the northeastern region of Veneto.

Migrant 'invasion'

Northern League leader Matteo Salvini said those who did not vote for his party were effectively supporting what he called an "invasion" of Italy by migrants.

Italy has been on the frontline as thousands of migrants have arrived by sea from North Africa in recent months. The country has struggled to deal with the influx, and has received only limited assistance from the rest of the European Union.

Salvini used the regional elections to strengthen his standing as the next opposition leader. He hopes to replace the 78-year-old Berlusconi, who was forced out of parliament by a tax fraud conviction.

Thirty elected members of Forza Italia have already announced allegiance to Berlusconi's former heir-apparent, Raffaele Fitto, who has broken away from the old leader.

The Northern League also appeared to have consolidated its status as the biggest center-right party, bypassing Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

Renzi's party also suffered a setback as its candidate for president of Campania, a crime-ridden southern region around the city of Naples, was named by parliament's anti-mafia committee as "impresentabili" or "unpresentable."

Vincenzo De Luca has a conviction for abuse of power and faces trial on other charges, including fraud. He could be banned from taking office.

The committee named a total of 17 candidates as "unpresentable."

jm/cmk (AP, Reuters)

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