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Italy's Monti pledges to head coalition of centrists

ROME, Dec. 29 — Italy's caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti said Friday that he would head a coalition of centrists after meeting a group of business and political moderate figures who have expressed support for his reform program.

Monti told a press conference, at the end of the meeting, that he has "never planned to create a party" but is ready to head a coalition of centrists that will race in the upcoming vote with one single electoral list at the parliament upper chamber, or Senate, and with separate lists at the lower chamber.

Monti said that, being a life senator, he is not going to run for office in parliament in the election, which is set on 24-25 Feb. In Italy, the premier is appointed by the president after each election and is usually the leader of the most voted party or coalition.

"I believe that the financial emergency was overcome, but there is another as much serious one, made of youth unemployment and lack of growth," Monti said. He added that he aimed at a "renewal of Italian politics" centered on strong ethical values and Europe-oriented policies.

The caretaker premier said he had just met with supporters of what he called the "Agenda Monti for Italy" list, stressing that he would like political and social forces to line up with his ideas.

The over four-hour meeting included Union of the Center (UDC) party leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, representatives of the Italia Futura movement founded by Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, caretaker economic development minister Corrado Passera and international cooperation minister Andrea Riccardi.

Monti handed in his formal resignation on Dec. 21 after 13 months at the helm of an emergency cabinet of technocrats, which has introduced a tough austerity drive to steer Italy away from the center of the eurozone debt crisis.

Following his step back, the 69-year-old former European Commissioner announced that he would back those political forces committed to pursue his "agenda" of recommendations for the next government to follow up with his reforms.

Meanwhile Pier Luigi Bersani, whose center-left Democratic Party (PD) has led the opinion polls for months, announced on Friday that the noted anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso will be a candidate for the PD in the elections.

"We chose to put the two words 'morality' and 'work' before the legislature and the rule of law as a top priority for our country," Bersani told a press conference.

The participation in the PD of Grasso, who worked on important anti-Mafia cases in the early 1990s, would help drive a "civic resurgence" in scandal-hit politics, the PD head added.

Grasso was the third anti-mafia prosecutor planning to run for office in the next Italian government, following the announcements by prosecutors Antonio Ingroia and Stefano Dambruoso last week.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has changed his mind several times on whether to stand for premiership again, has always claimed to be the victim in various legal actions of left-wing prosecutors and judges.

His center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party this month withdrew support to the technocratic government, which was due to serve until April 2013, triggering early resignation. The PdL has increasingly attacked the budget measures carried out by Monti to tackle Italy's debt crisis.

On Friday, the media tycoon said that he could take to the roads of Italy to seek direct contact with his potential electorate if he is forced to reduce the number of his television appearances under the equal time rule in what is likely to be a heated electoral campaign. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/RSM

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