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Italian premier defends austerity measures

Tuesday - 12/11/2012, 11:00am  ET

VICTOR L. SIMPSON
Associated Press

ROME (AP) -- Premier Mario Monti on Tuesday defended his government's austerity measures as necessary to restore confidence in Italy's financial future, and warned voters to beware "magic solutions" promised by candidates in upcoming elections.

Monti has said he will resign as soon as the country's budget is approved, spreading anxiety in the markets that a new elected government will not follow through on reforms.

Speaking on state TV, he warned politicians against suggesting during the elections that there is an easy way out of Italy's financial problems.

"It is important that everyone use some self-discipline and avoid the tendency to oversimplify, presenting magic solutions to the citizens," he said.

Monti declined to discuss his future plans. Supporters have been pushing him to lead a centrist movement in the elections. Others say he may seek the largely ceremonial position of president, or that he may seek an EU position in Brussels.

Keeping the jittery markets in mind, Monti stressed that "there is a government in Italy and will be until another is named."

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, meanwhile, was in full election mode. In a call to one of the TV stations he owns, he said Monti's politics are too "German-centered," belittling concerns about the country's borrowing costs as measured by the spread -- the difference in interest between benchmark German bonds and Italian ones.

Monti was tapped by Italy's president to lead the country in late November 2011 after Berlusconi resigned, having lost the confidence of international markets in his ability to save the country from a Greek-style debt crisis.

Monti, a respected economist and former European Union commissioner, won back a degree of international credibility for the country through a series of tax hikes and fiscal reforms that were deeply unpopular at home.

He will step down as soon as Parliament passes the 2013 budget law later this month. His term was due to end by April, and his resignation would move up elections by about two months.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she supported the reform course that Monti's government has set in motion.

"We have seen that financial investors also have regained some confidence in Italy," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin. "And so the Italian population will surely make its choice in such a way that Italy continues along a good path."


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