Mario Monti 'available to lead Italy'

Mario Monti at a press conference in Rome, 23 December 2012
Image caption There has been intense speculation about Mario Monti's possible role in elections

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti says he is not siding for now with any party in upcoming elections, but remains available to head a future government.

Mr Monti said he was ready to lead any coalition committed to his reforms.

The caretaker prime minister said he was unable to accept an offer from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to lead a centrist coalition.

Elections are to be held in February. Mr Monti resigned after Mr Berlusconi's party withdrew its support.

Mr Monti was nominated as technocratic prime minister in November 2011, after Mr Berlusconi's centre-right coalition government fell amidst a financial and economic crisis.

Speaking at a news conference in Rome, Mr Monti urged Italian parties not to destroy what he said was his government's achievement in saving Italy from that crisis.

"That financial emergency has been overcome," he said. "Italians can once again hold their heads high as citizens of Europe."

Keeping options open

Asked repeatedly if he was going to run in the 24-25 February election, Mr Monti said he cared more about policies than about the personalities involved in the election.

"I'm not siding with anyone - I'd like parties and social forces to side with ideas," he said.

But he added: "To the forces that show convinced and credible adherence to the Monti agenda, I would be ready to give my advice, my encouragement and if necessary leadership," he said.

"I would also be ready to assume one day, if required by circumstances, the responsibilities that would be entrusted to me by the parliament."

The BBC's David Willey says Mr Monti, whose possible role in February's election has been the subject of intense speculation in Italy, is playing his cards close to his chest - whilst keeping his options open.

Mr Monti, 69, is an economist and former EU commissioner who first served as a minister under Mr Berlusconi in 1994.

His government has been praised for its initial reforms and for calming financial markets, though much of its reform agenda has been watered down or blocked.

On Sunday, he appealed to parties to push through further reforms of Italy's labour market and its institutions.

He also criticised Mr Berlusconi for recently attacking the technocratic government, despite having previously praised it.

"I struggle to follow his line of thought," Mr Monti said.

Mr Berlusconi, 76, has been mired in a series of sexual and financial scandals.

He made conflicting statements about whether he would remain in politics before launching into his sixth general election campaign.

Current polls suggest the centre-left Democratic Party led by Pier Luigi Bersani would win the most votes in a general election.

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