* Grillo Movement draws hundreds of thousands to final
* Polls suggest 5-Star Movement is Italy's third largest
* Momentum fuelled by rage at corruption, scandal
By Naomi O'Leary
ROME, Feb 22 Comic Beppe Grillo rounded off the
Italian election campaign with a fiery rally in central Rome
that drew hundreds of thousands of supporters and underlined the
capacity of his 5-Star Movement to create an upset when voting
opens on Sunday.
Arriving in his distinctive campaign bus, Grillo launched
into his now familiar tirade against corrupt politicians and
bankers, taking aim against targets ranging from Silvio
Berlusconi and Mario Monti to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Give up! You're surrounded!" he bellowed to cheers from the
crowd estimated by stewards at more than half a million, many of
whom had waited for hours in the rain before his arrival at
Piazza San Giovanni, a traditional meeting place of the left.
The rally was the last stop on Grillo's "Tsunami Tour" which
has taken the shaggy-haired 64-year-old across Italy in a camper
van, yelling himself hoarse at packed meetings complemented by
the most effective Internet campaign in Italian politics.
It contrasted sharply with the much quieter final campaign
appearances of rivals including Berlusconi, who was prevented
from being present at the last rally of his centre-right party
because of what he said was an eye problem.
Tapping into the pent-up rage that millions of Italians feel
over the corruption and privilege of their political elites,
Grillo has built his 5-Star Movement from a fringe phenomenon
into one of the most talked-about electoral forces in Europe.
Manuela Rossetti, 30, a doctoral student in archaeology,
left Italy for France along with many of her friends because she
saw no future in her own country, where the economy has barely
grown in a decade.
"The politicians are an elite; they are not part of Italian
society any more and they don't understand the problems of
ordinary people," she said as she waited for Grillo to arrive.
On a brief return home, she will be voting in the election
on Sunday and Monday.
"The 5-Star Movement winning the elections is my only hope
this country can change, and maybe I can return," she said.
The last opinion polls before a pre-election blackout two
weeks ago gave Grillo's movement some 16 percent of the vote,
making it the third-largest electoral force. However, several
electoral experts believe that it may have built on that score,
helped by a string of corporate and political scandals.
Although Grillo himself is not running for a seat - a felony
conviction over a road accident in the 1980s means he is barred
under his own rules - the movement is on course to send scores
of novice deputies to parliament, where they could have a
significant impact on the make-up of the next government.
Attacked by mainstream politicians as a dangerous populist
and a threat to democracy in a country that lived through two
decades of fascism until World War Two, Grillo has ruled out an
alliance with any of the big parties and constitutes one of the
biggest elements of uncertainty in the election.
He wants a referendum on retaining the euro currency, to
restructure Italy's huge public debt and strip politicians of
their privileges but the rest of his platform is an eclectic mix
ranging from free health care to protecting local manufacturing.
With record unemployment and a recession worsened by the
austerity policies imposed by technocrat Prime Minister Mario
Monti to stem the debt crisis, the mood among many Italians is
"In Italy there are business owners committing suicide.
There are people without enough to eat," said Armando Mattioli,
61, a doctor who travelled by bus from the central city of
Perugia to attend Grillo's rally. "We are in an emergency."
Investigations into alleged fraud and corruption at
companies including defence group Finmeccanica and Italy's third
largest bank, Monte dei Paschi, plus a seemingly endless round
of political corruption cases have fuelled the movement.
But Grillo's often spiky relations with the mainstream media
were again in evidence on Friday after organisers banned Italian
journalists from the backstage area, admitting only the foreign
media until police ordered them to let in local reporters.