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Italy's outgoing prime minister confirms election bid

Mario Monti has confirmed he is to lead a coalition of centrist parties into February's parliamentary election. His group will run against the leading Democratic Party and Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

In a hastily convened news conference on Friday, Italy's outgoing prime minister said he would contest the election as the head of a new "grouping" of likeminded politicians. Monti told reporters his coalition groups together centrist parties who support his European and reform-minded agenda

"The traditional left-right split has historic and symbolic value" for the country, but "it does not highlight the real alliance that Italy needs - one that focuses on Europe and reforms," Monti said after a meeting with centrist politicians.

He added that the grouping could win a "significant result" in next year's election, paving the way for his possible return to office.

As a senator-for-life Monti won't have to run for a seat in parliament himself in the election. But he said he would help chose a single list of candidates, possibly called "Monti's agenda for Italy," in the upper house and probably be the prime minister candidate in the lower house.

Friday's announcement clarifies a statement made on Sunday in which he said he would consider seeking a second term if he could find a credible political force to support his reform-minded agenda.

Three-way battle

The election, scheduled to take place on Febuary 24-5, will now see a three-way battle for power. Monti's centrists will go head-to-head with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is leading in the polls, and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.

The 69-year-old former European Commissioner was appointed to lead Italy's technocrat government last year to restore Italy's finances following Berlusconi's departure.

Berlusconi has criticized Monti for enforcing "German-centric" austerity measures which he says have plunged Italy deeper into recession.

ccp/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)