Italy election campaign begins as parliament dissolved

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano speaks at the Quirinale palace in Rome after dissolving parliament on 22/12/12
Image caption President Napolitano has asked Mario Monti to remain PM until the election

Italy's parliament has been dissolved by President Giorgio Napolitano following caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti's resignation.

The move paves the way for elections, now confirmed for 24-25 February.

Mr Monti, brought in last year to form a technocratic government, stepped down on Friday after MPs passed his budget.

It followed the withdrawal of support from former PM Silvio Berlusconi's party. Mr Berlusconi is to run again. Mr Monti has not unveiled his plans.

'Difficult but fascinating'

After meeting political leaders, President Napolitano told reporters: "I have just signed the decree for the dissolution of parliament."

He called for a "measured and constructive electoral campaign".

Soon after, the cabinet announced that the election would be held over two days, on 24-25 February.

Image caption Mario Monti is expected to announce on Sunday if he will participate in the election campaign

Mr Monti, who remains head of an interim administration until the elections, is expected to announce on Sunday whether he will run again.

Although the economist and former European commissioner cannot stand for election himself as he is already a senator for life, there is speculation that he could become the unofficial leader of a centrist coalition and return as a minister.

Since taking office in November 2011, Mr Monti and his non-party team of ministers have implemented economic austerity measures in the form of spending cuts and tax hikes.

In his last speech before his resignation, Mr Monti said the last 13 months 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.

The election was triggered after Silvio Berlusconi's party withdrew its support from Mr Monti's government, accusing it of following policies that "were too German-centric".

The three-times prime minister has said he intends to campaign on an anti-austerity platform, pledging to cut taxes and create jobs.

But the polls show Mr Berlusconi is trailing a centre-left alliance led by Pier Luigi Bersani, which broadly supports a continuation of Mr Monti's economic programme while pledging to ease some of the pressure on the poorest members of society.

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