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Monti wants centrist coalition for Italy

Italian Premier Mario Monti speaks during a press conference at the Italian Senate in Rome, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Monti has announced he is heading a new campaign coalition made of up centrists, businessmen and pro-Vatican forces, paving the way for his possible return to office if it wins enough seats in February parliamentary elections. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 6:42 p.m.

ROME — Italy's Premier Mario Monti announced on Friday he is heading a new campaign coalition made up of centrists, business leaders and pro-Vatican forces backing his “ethical” vision of politics, paving the way for him to secure a second term if his alliance wins big in February parliamentary elections.

After a four-hour huddle with supporters, Monti stopped short of saying he is running as a candidate for the premiership but said the ballot list would carry the banner ‘‘Monti Agenda for Italy.”

‘‘I will watch over the creation of (parliamentary) candidate lists, and for now, I agree to carry out the role of coalition head, and I am working for the success of this operation,” said Monti, who was appointed 13 months ago after his scandal-plagued predecessor Silvio Berlusconi failed to stop Italy from sliding deeper into the eurozone debt crisis.

Monti said his aim isn't to defeat the political right or left but ‘‘to prolong and intensify the pace and extend the objectives of” his government.

His range of supporters is impressive. They include the chief of Ferrari's Formula One racing team as well as figures in the highest Vatican echelons. Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas Day issued a call for higher values in politics that was read as a virtual endorsement for another Monti term.

Monti said he is ‘‘very grateful” for the Vatican support of his efforts to achieve ‘‘a higher level of public ethics.” His government labored hard to pass a weak version of a law restricting politicians convicted of corruption from running for office.

But it remains to be seen if Monti's high-minded reformist alliance will garner enough backing to allow him to call the shots after the elections. Recent polls have shown that such a grouping, with Monti at the helm, would garner about 15 percent of the vote.

Monti, an economist and former European Union commissioner, along with his government of technocrats have taken credit for shoring up Italy's shaky finances by pushing through a tough austerity agenda of pension reform, new taxes and spending cuts.

But he achieved that because of an unusual pulling together of most of parliament's forces, from center-left to center-right. That support collapsed earlier this month when Berlusconi pulled out his party's support. It forced Monti to resign, causing elections to be called two months early.

The caretaker premier told a hastily assembled news conference that while, thanks to his stewardship, ‘‘the financial emergency is over, there is another grave emergency under the eyes of all: youth unemployment and lack of growth.”

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