SILVIO Berlusconi has suffered a humiliating defeat as his party lost control of Milan, his political power base and home city, after nearly 20 years.
The result in local elections raised questions over the viability of Mr Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, two years before Italy faces a general election, and on his personal popularity, which has been eroded by corruption cases and the dismal state of the economy.
The Prime Minister's fortunes suffered a reversal not just in Milan but also in Naples, another key battleground, where the centre-left also triumphed.
Mr Berlusconi, 74, had said he would interpret the outcome in Milan as a referendum on his nearly three-year-old government and had campaigned heavily for his candidate, the incumbent mayor.
Giuliano Pisapia (pictured), the former communist lawyer who has taken power in Milan, assumed the mantle of mayor of Milan and said: ''Milan has been liberated. Now for the rest of Italy.''
The results were declared on the eve of the first day of the so-called Rubygate trial - the sensational case in which Mr Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with an under-age nightclub dancer nicknamed Ruby the Heartstealer. The man himself, il Cavaliere, was on a state visit to Romania and nowhere to be seen.
Mr Pisapia garnered close to 55 per cent of the vote while Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party candidate, Letizia Moratti - who campaigned warning that a vote for the left meant Milan would succumb to mosques and gypsies - won just under 45 per cent in a second round of voting over the weekend.More