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Italy faces vote as Monti leaves, Berlusconi returns

world Updated: Dec 09, 2012 22:45 IST

Italy was preparing prepared for early elections tourism after Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would soon resign and Silvio Berlusconi announced he would run for the top job for the sixth time in two decades.

Monti said he would step down as soon as parliament approved next year's budget, which means elections could now be as early as February -- well before the government's mandate runs out in late April.

"I have matured the conviction that we could not continue like this any longer," Monti was quoted as saying in an interview with top-selling daily Corriere della Sera, a day after his dramatic move.

Monti said he took his decision after Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party withdrew their support for him last week.

Party chief Angelino Alfano told parliament on Friday that Italy's debt, unemployment and tax rates had risen while the economy had plunged since Monti had taken over in November 2011. Monti leads a non-elected cabinet of technocrats.

Alfano went back on the offensive today saying Monti's government had made "grave errors".

"We wanted to signal Italians' unease with his economic policies," he said.

Asked about several items of legislation still before parliament, Alfano said his party would only back the budget and a decree to keep open a troubled steel mill in southern Italy that employs thousands of people.

Investors have reacted nervously since the PDL abstained from two confidence votes on the government on Thursday: the stock market plunged and the differential, or "spread", between Italian and benchmark German bonds widened.

Following talks between Monti and President Giorgio Napolitano yesterday, the president's office said that Monti "does not think it possible to continue his mandate and consequently made clear his intention to present his resignation."

Analysts said Monti's decision to speed up the election could also be a way for him to prepare his own entry into politics after three-time prime minister Berlusconi announced his dramatic return.

Berlusconi announced his return to the fray despite a tax fraud conviction earlier this year and an ongoing trial for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abusing his powers when premier.

"I am running to win," he said on Saturday, after declaring in October that he would not run.

He added: "When I did sport, when I worked and studied, I never entered into a competition to be well-placed but always to win."

Most recent polls suggest Berlusconi's party is running in second or even third place, with the main centre-left Democratic Party led by Pier Luigi Bersani expected to win the elections.

Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit, said he was "not seriously worried" about the prospects for Italy and predicted either a Bersani-led coalition or a new Monti government after the election.

More than three million centre-left voters took to the polls earlier this month to nominate Bersani as their candidate, a former communist with liberal reformist credentials and experience in government.