Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has won a key confidence vote in parliament after he pledged sweeping economic and political reforms.

Letta's government easily won votes in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday, with the backing of a new centre-right party that split from disgraced former leader Silvio Berlusconi.

Calling for a "new start," Letta said his priorities for 2014 would include stimulating the economy, reducing unemployment and reforming Italy's electoral law, which many view as a contributing factor to the country's political instability.

"I will do everything I can," Letta vowed. "I won't give in to those who say the chaos is too much and we can't do anything."

The confidence vote was called to confirm Letta's majority after Berlusconi pulled his Forza Italia party out of the ruling coalition last month.

Berlusconi has since been expelled from parliament over his conviction for tax fraud.

Economic woes

Letta told parliament that Italy had avoided reforms for 20 years and could no longer afford to do so, as countrywide protests this week underlined the bitter public mood.

He pledged to fight "like a lion" to tackle problems such as youth unemployment, which was running at more than 40 percent.

Years of recession and stagnation have shrunk the economy, while Italy grapples with rampant corruption and a discredited political system.

Police shut down parts of Rome on Wednesday as hundreds of protesters gathered near parliament, shouting "Thieves! Thieves!"

Letta said the next 18 months would be devoted to a broad package of institutional reforms aimed at creating a stable basis for economic growth, which he said should reach 1 percent in 2014 and 2 percent in 2015.

The targets are considered optimistic by virtually all independent forecasters.

Source: Agencies