No break for Italian government in austerity drive: PM

AFP , Sunday 7 Aug 2011

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi say his government will be hard at work following his announced austerity measures

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian government will be hard at work throughout the holiday month of August, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday, after announcing that Rome will speed up austerity measures.

"We are continuing our activity without a break," Berlusconi told reporters outside his Rome residence.

Though he was taking the weekend off, he would be back in the capital Monday evening or Tuesday, he said.

He would not be following his usual practice of spending the week in his Sardinian villa until the birthday of his eldest daughter Marina on August 10, though he would be going there specially for the occasion.

He also denied a report in the Fatto Quotidiano newspaper that he would be staying with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin next weekend in a bid to persuade Russian investors to buy Italian government bonds.

Berlusconi told a hastily convened news conference late Friday alongside Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti that the austerity drive would be accelerated "to reach a budget balance early -- in 2013 instead of 2014."

"We are responding to the demands of markets that are governed by no one... and operate independently from economic reality," he said, adding: "We have to recognise that the world has entered a global financial crisis."

Berlusconi's Northern League coalition partner Umberto Bossi said the move was part of a deal under which the European Central Bank (ECB) would start buying up Italian bonds from Monday.

Berlusconi said lawmakers would be called back early from summer recess to start working "immediately" on measures including a constitutional amendment that would force Italian governments to keep balanced budgets.

The Italian parliament said the amendment would be discussed in committee next Thursday. The change -- similar to one in force in Germany -- was announced by Berlusconi after emergency talks on the economy on Thursday.

Italy has been battered on the stock and bond markets in recent weeks by investors concerned about its high public debt and anaemic economic growth, as well as signs of tensions within Berlusconi's centre-right coalition.

Italian shares plunged 13.12 percent this past week, although market rumours that the ECB was intervening to support the highly vulnerable markets for Italian and Spanish bonds helped stem the slide on Friday.

Italy's parliament last month adopted a four-year 48-billion-euro ($68-billion) austerity budget aimed at cutting the public deficit from 4.6 percent of output last year to just 0.2 percent by 2014.

The plan, which included deep cuts to regional subsidies, family tax benefits and top-tier pensions, was heavily criticised by several commentators for delaying by far the most painful cuts until 2013 and 2014.

Berlusconi's government mandate runs out in 2013, and he ruled out Saturday any idea of bringing forward the elections to next year.

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