Centre-left leader ahead in Italian polls, with Silvio Berlusconi in third

The country's centre-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, is the favourite among Italians to lead the next government, with outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti the second most popular and Silvio Berlusconi coming a close third, a poll shows.

Mr Bersani scored 36.2 per cent, Mr Monti 23.3 per cent and Mr Berlusconi 21.8 per cent, found the poll conducted by the CISE electoral research institute for Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.

Whoever wins the elections on 24 February will have to tackle a deep recession and rising unemployment in the eurozone's third-largest economy as well as keeping strained public finances under control.