Northern League builds on ruins of the old order: As the new parties slug it out in the second round of Italy's local polls, violent invective has alarmed many

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THE Northern League, advancing unstoppably over the ruins of the old ruling parties, last night was set to claim its greatest prize so far: the city of Milan, Italy's business capital, where the corruption scandals were first uncovered and the country's democratic revolution was born.

Projections based on exit polls after the second round of Italy's epoch- making municipal elections gave Marco Formentini, the League's candidate for mayor, 58 per cent of the vote, some 14 per cent more than his opponent, Nando dalla Chiesa, of the anti-Mafia grouping La Rete, who was supported by former Communists and Greens. He won despite - or possibly because of - violent and vulgar invective by the League's leader, Umberto Bossi against Professor dalla Chiesa, which alarmed some commentators and brought a warning from the President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, against rabble-rousing.

Mr Formentini, who had not joined in the campaign tactics of his leader, promised to 'relaunch Milan' after its troubles. He also gave assurances that the League had dropped its 'ethnic demands' for separation from southern Italy and was not interested in secession.

The League had already emerged as the strongest party in the north in the first round of the elections two weeks ago which left Italy's political geography completely transformed. It is also expected to claim numerous other important northern centres.

In Turin, the second northern city, where the League was excluded from the run-off amid furious charges by Mr Bossi of foul play, Valentino Castellani, a moderate candidate backed by the electoral reformer Mario Segni, the former Communists and Greens, came from behind to beat an experienced former mayor, Diego Novelli at the head of an alliance composed of La Rete, the hard-line Communists, pensioners and other Greens. Projections surprisingly gave Mr Castellani nearly nearly 57 per cent compared with around 43 per cent for Mr Novelli. Mr Segni, who is trying to create a broad-based, Anglo-saxon- style progressive party, said joyfully that this showed his was a 'winning line . . . it shows we are beginning to build.'

Mr Bossi, alleging ballot-rigging, has demanded that the Turin elections be annulled and called Turin magistrates 'criminals' who should be in prison because the case was, in his view, not being dealt with fast enough.

Further projections confirmed that the former Communist Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) is now the strongest party in central Italy, winning key cities such as Ravenna, Siena and Ancona. In the Sicilian city of Catania, the third most important city voting yesterday, pollsters were unable to detect who was ahead; Enzo Bianco, supported by Mr Segni, the former Communists, Republicans and Greens, or Claudio Fava, backed by the hard-line Communists and La Rete.

These elections were the first in half a century in which Italians could vote directly for their mayors under new rules designed to break the stranglehold of the parties over local politics and make mayors and councillors directly answerable to the voters. The winners' parties or groupings get a guaranteed majority of 60 per cent in the councils to ensure stability during their four-year term in office.