Berlusconi warns Monti not to stand in Italy election
By Barry Moody
ROME (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi joined forces with his leftwing opponents on Thursday to warn Mario Monti against standing in the coming election, as uncertainty over the outgoing premier's plans stoked political tension in Italy.
Berlusconi told a radio phone-in program it would be "morally questionable" for Monti to run, emphasizing the risks of him being caught in right-left crossfire if he throws his hat in the ring and loses his status of being above the fray.
Monti, who has governed as a non-partisan technocrat since last year, is expected to announce his plans after the 2013 budget is approved and parliament is dissolved, but has refused to say anything before then, fuelling fevered speculation over what role he will play in the election.
On Thursday, he made what sounded like a pre-campaign speech, telling Fiat car workers in southern Italy that it would be irresponsible for Italians to throw away the sacrifices they have made during a year of debt cutting austerity under his government.
Berlusconi, bidding for his fifth term as prime minister, has repeatedly attacked Monti's policies and promised again on Thursday to abolish a hated housing tax he imposed.
Some reports say Monti will announce his candidacy at the weekend but political sources told Reuters that he was preparing to endorse one big centrist group or several smaller ones which would sign up to policies continuing the fiscal discipline he has imposed over the last year to calm a financial crisis.
Such groups, ranging from the existing UDC party of Pier Ferdinando Casini to a new civic movement founded by Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, are campaigning for Monti as next prime minister, effectively making him a candidate if he endorses them.
Entering the campaign could pose many risks for Monti, including reducing the chances that he would become Italy's president if he does not succeed in winning the premiership after an election now almost certain to be held on February 24. Continued...