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Berlusconi's popularity hits new low - poll

ROME (Reuters) - A corruption scandal, an unpopular austerity budget and a string of government resignations have pushed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s popularity to a new low, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaks before a concert by French singer Charles Aznavour to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the province of Milan, on the Duomo roof in downtown Milan July 19, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

The poll in La Repubblica newspaper showed Berlusconi’s approval rating had fallen to 39 percent and is now 10 percentage points lower than it was a year ago.

La Repubblica is a left-leaning daily but the results of its IPR survey mirror those published in the last few weeks by other newspapers.

The 73-year old conservative premier is facing the toughest time in his two-year old government and is under pressure on several fronts.

He was forced to rely on a confidence vote to push a 25-billion euro (21 billion pounds) austerity budget through the Senate last week. An increasingly bitter row with his main nominal ally, Gianfranco Fini, also threatens the survival of his centre-right coalition.

Fini is the speaker of the lower house of parliament and the co-founder of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party. The party’s approval rating also fell, by 5 points to 35 percent, according to the IPR poll.

The survey said moderate voters in particular appeared to have lost confidence in Berlusconi and his government, citing the toxic climate within the party and a widening corruption and influence-peddling scandal.

Two ministers and a junior minister have resigned since May over judicial investigations, and more heads could roll.

The most recent scandal, which cost Economy Undersecretary Nicola Consentino his job last week, centres on an alleged secret conspiracy by PDL politicians and friendly magistrates to influence political appointments and judicial decisions.

Three people have been arrested in the case, which has drawn comparisons with the notorious P2 Masonic lodge of politicians and members of the security services accused of trying to set up a secret “state within the state” in the 1980s.

The centre-left opposition however had little to cheer about, according to the IPR survey. The popularity of the main opposition Democratic Party (PD), which is also riven by internal divisions, slipped 2 points to 32 percent.

Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Jon Hemming