Europe

Italy's Mario Monti resigns, as MPs pass budget

Mario Monti on a visit to the Fiat plant in Melfi, near Potenza, 20 December
Image caption Mario Monti has been in office for just over a year

Mario Monti has resigned as Italian prime minister, officials say, keeping a promise to step down after the passing of his budget by parliament.

MPs earlier passed the 2013 budget drawn up by his government with 309 votes in favour and 55 against.

An announcement on whether Mr Monti will take part in elections - expected in February - will probably be made at a news conference on Sunday.

Mr Monti was brought in to form a technocratic government last year.

However, the conservative People of Freedom party of his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, withdrew its support for his cabinet this month.

Mr Berlusconi, a three-time prime minister already, is fighting his sixth election campaign.

The new political uncertainty in Italy, the third-biggest economy in the eurozone, has unsettled investors.

'Undecided'

Mr Monti travelled to the presidential palace after a cabinet meeting late on Friday to hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano.

President Napolitano accepted the resignation and called on Mr Monti to remain as head of an interim administration until the elections, which analysts say will most probably be held on 24 February.

The date will be determined after President Napolitano consults with political leaders on Saturday and dissolves the two chambers.

In his last speech before his resignation, Mr Monti said his 13 months in office had been "difficult but fascinating".

"The work we did... has made the country more trustworthy... more competitive and attractive to foreign investors," he told foreign diplomats in Rome.

Opinion polls suggest the centre-left Democratic Party, under Pierluigi Bersani, will win the largest share of the vote in the election.

Since taking office with his non-party team of ministers, Mr Monti has been implementing economic austerity measures and argues that his spending cuts and tax hikes have staved off disaster.

Image caption Opinion polls suggest the Democratic Party's Pierluigi Bersani will be the biggest election winner

The economist and former European commissioner cannot stand for election himself as he is already a senator for life but he could theoretically return as a minister, perhaps as unofficial leader of a centrist coalition.

"Those closest to him say he has not yet decided and do not rule out a surprise decision," the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera said.

"Slowly, as the hours pass, the largest parties which supported Monti begin to see him as a potential adversary."

On Thursday, Mr Monti, 69, defended the "bitter medicine" of budgetary discipline, in what appeared to be a response to attacks by Mr Berlusconi on austerity policies.

Mr Monti told workers at the Fiat factory that it would be "irresponsible to waste all the sacrifices that Italians [had] made".

On Friday, he joked that the impending end of his technocratic government was "not the fault of the Mayan prophecy", referring to a prediction that the world would end on Friday.

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