Italy's Monti to lead reform-minded coalition

Prime minister announces he will lead new campaign bloc made of up centrists, business leaders and pro-Vatican forces.

    Italian Premier Mario Monti has announced he is heading a new campaign coalition made of up centrists, business leaders and pro-Vatican forces who back his "ethical" vision of politics, paving the way for him to possibly secure a second term if his alliance wins big in parliamentary elections.

    After a four-hour huddle with supporters on Friday, Monti stopped short of saying he is running as a candidate for the premiership, but said the February 24-25 ballot list would carry the banner `'Monti Agenda for Italy'' or something similar.

    "'A new political formation is born,'' Monti declared.

    The announcement clarifies Monti's involvement in the vote, after he said on Sunday that he may be willing to seek a second term if a credible political force backed his reform agenda.

    The former European Commissioner, appointed at the head of a technocrat government last year to save Italy from financial crisis, said he was willing to accept "being named as leader of the coalition".

    Monti, whose status as senator for life means he does not have to run for a seat in parliament himself, said the grouping could win a "significant result" in the election.

    The announcement clears up some of the uncertainty hanging over the election and puts Monti at the centre of a three-way contest for power with the centre-left Democratic Party, which is leading in the polls and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

    One opinion poll published since the weekend estimated that a centrist coalition led by Monti could hope to gain between 11 and 15 percent of the vote.

    The 69-year-old economic professor has been widely credited for restoring Italy's international credibility after the
    scandal-plagued Berlusconi years.

    However, ordinary Italians have become increasingly tired of the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts he has imposed to repair Italy's battered public finances.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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