ROME — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, with approval ratings plunging amid corruption and electoral scandals, launched a charm offensive ahead of key regional elections.
Full-page ads in Italian newspapers, emblazoned with the slogan "Love Always Wins Over Envy and Hatred," urged supporters to come out in force for a campaign rally in Rome on Saturday.
The slogan is also featured on one of several websites operated by the billionaire prime minister's People of Freedom (PDL) party.
The media tycoon has said the elections in 13 of Italy's 20 regions on March 28 and 29 will be a key barometer of his centre-right coalition's performance since he returned to power for a third time in 2008.
A recent opinion poll showed Berlusconi's approval rating down to 44 percent, while his coalition government made up of the PDL and the anti-immigration Northern League scored only 38 percent.
His greatest fear is that a low turnout will spell defeat in several of the regions, analysts say, pointing to a recent study finding that one in four Italians have no interest in politics.
The Berlusconi camp is on the defensive after being hit by a series of embarrassments as top officials were caught up in corruption scandals including public safety chief Guido Bertolaso, a close associate who had been admired for his response to last year's earthquake in central Italy.
"The centre-right electorate is disorientated and has lost confidence in its leaders, whom they see as disorganised," said pollster Renato Mannheimer.
"The current disenchantment may especially keep right-wing voters away," said political scientist Marco Tarchi.
The PDL had egg on its face after it missed the deadline for submitting its list in Rome's Lazio region and questions were raised over the validity of the signatures accompanying its list for Berlusconi's native Lombardy region.
An electoral court allowed two PDL candidates to stand in Rome and Milan, but without a secondary list in Lazio.
In apparent damage-control mode, Berlusconi last week accused the left-wing opposition and electoral judges of "impeding" PDL officials trying to submit their lists.
Berlusconi, who last month likened the country's judges to Afghanistan's Taliban, has long claimed that "communist" magistrates have been out to get him in a series of corruption cases involving his sprawling media empire.
The "Love Always Wins" slogan echoes Berlusconi's response to a physical assault in Milan in December that left him with a broken nose.
The attack further polarised a sharply divided nation, with left and right trading accusations of creating a "climate of hatred" that led to it.
But Berlusconi said after leaving hospital: "I will have two memories from these days: the hatred of few and the love of many, so many Italians... Neither the violence of stones nor the worse violence of words... will prevail" in Italy.
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