Italy's Monti fires opening salvo of second-term campaign

Wed Jan 2, 2013 11:31am EST
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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti pledged to cut labor taxes to fuel growth on Wednesday as he shed his neutral technocrat stance and fired the opening salvo of his campaign for a second term.

The former European Commissioner was appointed in November 2011 to lead an unelected right-left government of experts to save Italy from financial crisis after Silvio Berlusconi quit amid a sex scandal and a crisis that threatened the euro.

Berlusconi's party withdrew its support for Monti in December, and Monti resigned on December 21, about two months earlier than had been planned.

On Friday Monti abandoned his mediator role he played to enter politics in his own right and lead a centrist alliance to fight the February 24-25 parliamentary vote.

The 69-year-old's bloc is now in a three-way race with the Democratic Party (PD) on the left and four-time prime minister Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) on the right - his allies until 12 days ago.

A poll published on Wednesday said Monti's bloc would win 12 percent of the vote, while one published last week said it could gain up to 16 percent, depriving rivals of a clear win, but not enough to govern.

They show the PD and its coalition ally are on track to win the vote, at least in the lower house. Monti repeated on Wednesday that he wanted to form a broad coalition of pro-Europe, pro-reform parties after the election.

To Italians who have borne the brunt of austerity measures he introduced in late 2011 to save Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis, Monti promised to lower labor taxes and "redistribute" wealth from the richest to the poorest if he wins.   Continued...

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti gestures during a news conference in Rome December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile