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ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom (PDL) coalition has bolstered its popularity despite judicial problems dogging the Italian prime minister and splits among its leadership, according to an opinion poll on Thursday.
The survey, carried out for the pro-government newspaper Libero by the respected Piepoli institute, showed the PDL increasing its share of voting intentions to 38.5 percent, versus the 35.3 percent it garnered in July's European elections.
The poll was carried out before this week's talk of early elections. Pollster Nicola Piepoli said, however, that when the poll was taken political parties were focussed on regional elections due in March.
The main opposition Democratic Party (PD) also saw its popularity rise to 27.5 percent from 26.1 percent. The main losers were smaller coalition partners on the left and right and independent parties, according to the survey.
The figures contrasted with a survey by pollsters ISPO, published in late October in Corriere della Sera newspaper, which showed the government's popularity slipping.
Berlusconi, due to return to the dock in two corruption trials resuming this month and in January, ruled out an early election on Wednesday after the Senate speaker said splits in the government threatened its ability to stay in power.
Unease at judicial reforms, which Berlusconi has pushed for since Italy's top court stripped him of his immunity last month, has exacerbated tensions within the ruling coalition, fuelled by jockeying for the succession to Berlusconi, 73, analysts say.
Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house, has openly voiced his discontent with Berlusconi, accusing him of behaving like "an absolute monarch."
Media-mogul Berlusconi, whose popularity weathered a summer of sex scandals, has pledged to serve out his term until 2013 after comfortably winning parliamentary elections in April 2008. He says he has the support of Italians even if "communist" judges opposes him.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Reuters