Berlusconi criticizes Monti's campaign about-face

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Associated Press

Posted on December 29, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Updated Sunday, Dec 30 at 1:05 AM

ROME (AP) — Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi sharply criticized the decision by Mario Monti to run in Italy's general elections and vowed Saturday to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the 2011 fall of his government and appointment of Monti as Italy's premier.

Berlusconi spoke out after Monti ended weeks of hedging and announced Friday he would head a coalition of centrist forces, businessmen and pro-Vatican forces running for office in Feb. 24-25 elections.

Berlusconi said he never expected Monti would renege on his repeated assurances that he "wouldn't use the public prominence as head of a technical government for an ulterior presence in politics."

He said the decision represented a "loss of credibility" for Monti, a respected economist and former European Commissioner, and said if he is elected premier he would immediately launch a parliamentary inquiry into the fall of his government.

"There was a serious wound to democracy inflicted not just on us but on all Italians," Berlusconi said as he arrived at Milan's train station after a trip from Rome.

Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, beset by local corruption scandals and still tainted by Berlusconi's ill-fated last term, trails significantly in the polls behind the center-left Democratic Party. The Democrats, headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, are expected to win the election with about 30 percent of the vote.

Monti was named by Italy's president to lead a technical government after Berlusconi, hobbled by sex scandals, legal woes and defections from his party, was forced to resign in November 2011 amid Italy's slide into the eurozone's debt crisis.

Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, had initially supported Monti's government, backing tax hikes, raises in the retirement age and other unpopular reforms that were deemed necessary to restore Italy's financial credibility.

But earlier this month, Berlusconi yanked his party's support, accusing Monti's government of leading Italy into a "spiral of recession." Monti promptly resigned, forcing elections to be moved up by about two months.

Monti had long said he wouldn't run for office but would be available to serve the country if asked. European leaders, however, made clear they wanted Monti to gun for a second term, and he was wooed by centrist leaders and backed strongly by the Vatican, an important force in Italian politics.

As Monti weighed whether to enter the fray, Berlusconi initially offered an alliance, aware that he could use the votes that a Monti-headed centrist coalition might bring.

But Monti publicly spurned the offer last week and by Saturday Berlusconi was returning the favor. At best, the centrists with Monti leading them are expected to garner no more than about 15 percent of the vote.

Instead, Berlusconi reached out Saturday to his onetime ally, the Northern League, which split with the billionaire media mogul over his initial support for Monti's government. From the start, the euroskeptic League refused to back Monti.

Angelo Alfano, Berlusconi's hand-picked party leader, said the discussions with the League weren't going terribly well. "Discussions with League ongoing. Some important questions, but we're not convinced and they could lead us to separate our path," Alfano tweeted.

Berlusconi noted that the League has more to gain if it joins up with his party.

"I hope we can do it, but it's not necessary because we think we can win even if we go our separate ways," Berlusconi said.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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