Berlusconi is confident of winning a third term as prime minister in Sunday and Monday's vote, but up to 30 per cent of voters were undecided in the last published polls - meaning Berlusconi's lead is not entirely secure.
 
"A serious country"
 
Veltroni has attacked Berlusconi's economic record and his fondness for jokes, like making the two-fingered Latin gesture for a cuckold behind the head of a Spanish minister in 2002.
 
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Italy's political battle
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"Italy is a serious country and doesn't need a premier who sticks up his fingers or tells dirty jokes at European summits," said Veltroni on the last day of campaigning.
 
"He's not a statesman. That's what all the international papers say."
 
Veltroni quoted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as saying that "in the five years from 2001-2006 [when Berlusconi was in office] Italy was at a standstill".
 
Berlusconi for his part has accused Veltroni of having run "a campaign of lies".
 
He said that Veltroni's Democratic Party, formed in October, is the latest incarnation of the Italian Communist Party.
 
Campaigning deadline
 
As they approached a midnight deadline after which politicians are banned from campaigning, both candidates appeared on a TV chat show to deliver their final pleas for votes.
 
Berlusconi vowed to abolish car and motorbike tax, but only if the treasury could find the cash.
 
He urged people on the centre right not to "waste" votes on small parties as it would "play into the hands of the left".
 
Analysts at Italian bank Unicredit called both sides' tax proposals "disappointing" and said they should have paid more attention to "increasing productivity gains ... and trimming the huge debt burden".
 
Italy's debt is the world's third highest in absolute terms.
 
Whoever wins on Monday will also have to contend with a stalling economy, growing public disaffection with politics and Italy's legislative gridlock.
 
He will have to resolve a waste disposal crisis in the southern Naples region and seal a deal with Air France-KLM to take over Italy's failing Alitalia airline or oversee its liquidation.