Mon, Nov 07, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Thousands protest Italy’s leader

BAD REVIEW:The head of the Democratic Party said they were prepared to work alongside other opposition groups to form a new government

AP and Bloomberg, ROME

Tens of thousands of opposition activists demonstrated in central Rome on Saturday for the ouster of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, while the European Central Bank (ECB) said it might end the purchase of Italian government bonds if it concludes Italy is not adopting promised reforms.

Democratic Party leader Pierluigi Bersani told the crowd that his party is prepared to work with other opposition groups to lead a new government.

“If there is discontinuity and change, we are ready with the other opposition to create a new government,” Bersani told the crowd in Piazza San Giovani.

Berlusconi’s grip on power has been weakened by the ongoing sovereign debt crisis and infighting in his coalition that has prevented clear measures.

Six members of his party this week urged him to step aside to allow the formation of a broader coalition with a centrist opposition party.

The protesters, who arrived on buses and trains from throughout Italy, were joined by center-left politicians from France and Germany, as well as a group of topless female demonstrators from Ukraine known as Femen.

“We are not credible. I am ashamed of how other European countries see us. It is pitiful. This man [Berlusconi], this marionette, must go away,” said Mario Puddu, a retiree.

Berlusconi has promised a confidence vote on new legislation sought by the EU to shore up Italy’s economy.

The measures include a plan to sell government assets, tax breaks to encourage employment for the young and getting women back into the work force.

The legislation would also liberalize store opening hours and open closed professions.

Italy also agreed at a G20 summit in Cannes to have the IMF monitor the reform efforts, a humbling step for the world’s eighth-largest economy, which has the second-largest public debt in Europe.

Berlusconi, 75, is coming under mounting pressure at home and abroad as his government’s inability to convince investors and European allies that Italy can trim the eurozone’s second-biggest debt sent the yield on the country’s 10-year bond to more than 6.4 percent on Friday.

Italy’s borrowing costs to service its enormous public debt at 120 percent of GDP have been rising since the summer, raising concerns of a default.

While Europe has bailed out -Ireland, Greece and Portugal, eurozone leaders say Italy is too big to bail out.

ECB council member Yves Mersch said the bank is free to decide to stop buying Italian bonds if conditions are no longer met, in an interview with Italy’s La Stampa published yesterday.

The ECB has been buying Italian bonds since Aug. 8 to try to bring down borrowing costs in a country that sells more than 200 billion euros (US$276 billion) of bonds a year.

Mersch also said ECB President Mario Draghi’s priority remains price stability, when asked if the new president would be more focused on growth.

EU treaties should be changed as the confidence crisis poses a governance issue, he added.

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