Italian local elections test PM Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi at campaign rally in Naples - 13 May 2011
Image caption Mr Berlusconi has been campaigning vigorously on behalf of his candidates

Italians are to going to the polls in partial local elections that are being seen as a test of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's popularity.

The two-day vote, across nine provinces and 1,177 towns, is expected to reveal whether a number of criminal trials and sex scandals have damaged his standing.

Correspondents say the key issues are low economic growth, unemployment and Italy's role in the Libya crisis.

The poll is Italy's last vote before national elections in 2013.

Mr Berlusconi has campaigned vigorously on behalf of his centre-right coalition's candidates.

The key battlegrounds are the cities of Turin, Naples, Bologna and Milan - Mr Berlusconi's hometown and the Italian business capital.

For the first time in many years, the prime minister's coalition faces the prospect of losing Milan, where the campaigning has been particularly vicious.

Mr Berlusconi himself has been involved in the mud-slinging, saying the opposition did not wash much and attacking them over the rubbish collection crisis in Naples.

The prime minister faces three trials over corruption and tax fraud and a fourth over allegations he had sex with an underage prostitute and used his office to release her from custody over a separate matter.

He denies wrongdoing in all the cases and accuses prosecutors of pursuing a vendetta against him.

About 13 million people, almost a quarter of Italy's population, are eligible to vote, but turnout is expected to be low.