AFP - Italian opposition leader Walter Veltroni, the main challenger to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has resigned after a poor showing in local polls, his centre-left Democratic Party announced Tuesday.
Party officials initially declined the offer, but a spokesman said the opposition leader later "confirmed his resignation" and would hold a news conference on Wednesday.
In elections for the regional presidency of Sardinia, the incumbent backed by the centre left, Renato Soru, won just under 43 percent of the vote against nearly 52 percent for his right-wing challenger Ugo Cappellacci.
Cappellacci, 48, a political novice, enjoyed staunch support from Berlusconi, who travelled five times to the island of 1.6 million people to stump for him during the campaign.
The election was seen as a test for the prime minister as he has begun slipping in the polls amid worsening economic news.
Voter surveys had predicted a much closer race, and Soru's loss was a new blow for the left, still in disarray after last year's general elections returned Berlusconi to power for a third time by a comfortable margin.
The Democratic Party has since been beset by infighting, and the 53-year-old Veltroni's leadership has come under increasing fire ahead of European Union elections in early June.
The intellectual former mayor of Rome was credited with bringing the centre-left together under the banner of the Democratic Party, created in October 2007 ahead of last year's elections.
A former development minister, Pierluigi Bersani, now has his eyes set on the party leadership.