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Strong finish for 5-Star movement in Rome

Anti-establishment candidate Virginia Raggi has taken the lead in the first round of the Italian capital's mayoral race. Rome has been without an elected mayor since October when the disgraced center-left mayor resigned.

Italy's populist 5-Star Movement took a large lead in Sunday's first round of voting for the mayor of Rome, exit polls showed on Monday. The result could be a blow to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi whose center-left Democratic Party (PD) has been declining in popularity.

With 96 percent of the votes counted,

Raggi, a leading 5-Star party figure,

led the race with 35.3 percent while PD candidate Roberto Giachetti trailed with 24.8 percent.

Since neither candidate managed to clear the 50 percent threshold, a run-off election between the two candidates will take place later in June.

"The wind is changing, this is the moment," Raggi told supporters early on Monday.

"We are facing a historic moment," she added. "The Romans are ready to turn a page and I am ready to govern this city and to restore Rome to the splendor and beauty that it deserves."

Victory in Rome would be a huge breakthrough for the fledgling 5-Star movement which was founded in 2009 by

comedian Beppe Grillo

and hopes to capitalize on widespread anger over corruption that has tainted political figures on both the left and the right.

Raggi's 5-Star rising

Virginia Raggi at a polling place.

Virginia Raggi is a 37-year-old lawyer whose campaign tapped into simmering discontent over a string of corruption scandals in Rome

Rome has been without an elected mayor since last October, when PD party mayor Ignazio Marino was forced to stand aside over an expenses scandal.

Municipal elections which took place in Rome and other Italian cities on Sunday were widely seen as a

test for Renzi's PD party

and the country's divided right.

In other cities, exit polls showed that in Turin, the incumbent mayor Piero Fassino, of Renzi's PD party, came out ahead, but by less than had been expected. He will now face a tough race in the run-off against a 5-Star candidate.

Renzi's PD candidate for Milan, Giuseppe Sala, finished barely ahead of his center-right opponent, despite receiving praise for managing Milan's 2015 Expo.

Naples looked set to be held by leftist incumbent Luigi de Magistris, an independent former prosecutor. A run-off is projected against the center-right candidate in second place. PD suffered a major setback in Naples, failing to make the run-off ballot.

"We are not happy," said Renzi following the results. "We had wanted to do better, especially in Naples."

If 5-Star takes control of Rome, it would give it the platform it needs to transform itself into Italy's main opposition in the run-up to national elections due by June 2018 at the latest. It would also make Raggi the first female mayor in Rome's modern history.

The second round of voting is scheduled for June 19.

Watch video 00:58

Local elections underway in Italy

rs/jar/bw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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