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Beppe Grillo's Protest Group Wins Italian Hearts

By COLLEEN BARRY

ROME (AP) â¿¿ It says a lot about the political mood in Italy that when an unidentified package arrived at comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo's house, the bomb squad was called.

The package, delivered Thursday, actually contained bottles of Sardinian liquor â¿¿ a congratulations gift for his group's meteoric rise in Italy's latest election. The vote did not deliver a clear winner but showed Grillo's anti-establishment 5 Star Movement to be the top vote-getter among political parties.

One thing is clear: Three-party gridlock creating the first hung parliament in modern Italian history has raised political tensions even as Italy's economic situation continues to deteriorate. New figures released Friday show the recession-mired Italian economy contracted 2.4 percent last year, while Italian unemployment rose to a record 11.7 percent in January and 39 percent for youths.

No party won a clear majority in both houses, but Grillo and his grass-roots movement captured a deep vein of anger against Italy's political elite.

"If there was a winner in this election, it was surely Beppe Grillo. Grillo did well from Piedmont to Sicily. He did well in all regions of Italy, with few exceptions he surpassed 20 percent of the vote and in some places 30 percent. It is a national party, it did well everywhere," said Edoardo Bressanelli, a political science professor at Rome's LUISS University.

Grillo himself appeared surprised by the breadth of his success.

"He expected to be important, but he thought he would be a hard opposition. He didn't expect to be a big player," Bressanelli said.

A total of 163 "Grillini" have won seats: 109 of 630 seats in Italy's lower house and 54 of 315 seats in its upper house. They rode a wave of popular anger at the government's austerity measures, its privileged political class, a series of corporate scandals and an underlying absence of public morality. They are not numerous enough to form a government â¿¿ Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left coalition won control of the lower house and is expected to get the first shot â¿¿ but those loyal to Grillo certainly will have a key say in how Italy's new government is formed.

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