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Early Lombardy polls add to Italian political turmoil

MILAN (Reuters) - The governor of Italy's richest and most populous region said on Tuesday he would dissolve its parliament over a corruption scandal, adding to political instability with polls for the new assembly in Lombardy just months ahead of a national election.

The arrest of a member of Lombardy's centre-right administration on charges of buying votes from the Calabrian mafia was just the latest in a long list of corruption allegations to hit Italy's regional governments.

The string of scandals across the country has fuelled widespread voter disillusionment with Italy's political elite ahead of national parliamentary elections expected in April.

Justice Minister Paola Severino compared the scandals on Sunday to the "Bribesville" corruption cases that destroyed Italy's old party system in the 1990s.

Lombardy governor Roberto Formigoni announced new regional elections would be held very soon, possibly within 45 days, after losing the support of his main ally, the separatist Northern League party at the weekend.

Formigoni is a key figure in former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party and has led the region for 17 years.

While corruption scandals have led to the forced departure of the governors of Lazio and Sicily in the last few months and to the arrest of several regional politicians, Formigoni has resisted calls to quit over accusations that he pocketed 8.5 million euros ($11 million) in presents, trips and dinners.

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, but has been placed under formal investigation by magistrates in Milan.

The vote in Lombardy could further weaken the power base of the centre-right, which is badly divided and trailing in opinion polls. The Northern League has also been hit by a funding scandal earlier this year.

A government 'white book' on corruption to be unveiled next week is expected to say that Italy loses 60 billion euros a year due to corruption, according to La Repubblica daily newspaper.

($1 = 0.7730 euros)

(Reporting by Ilaria Polleschi; Writing by Lisa Jucca; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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