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Berlusconi lashes out at Monti

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi sharply criticised the decision by Mario Monti to run in Italy's general elections and vowed to launch a parliamentary inquiry into the 2011 fall of his government and appointment of Monti as Italy's premier.

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

Mr Berlusconi said he never expected Mr 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 Mr 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," Mr Berlusconi said as he arrived at Milan's train station after a trip from Rome.

Mr Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, beset by local corruption scandals and still tainted by Mr Berlusconi's ill-fated last term, trails significantly in the polls behind the centre-left Democratic Party.

The Democrats, headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, are expected to win the election with about 30% of the vote.

Mr 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.

Mr Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, had initially supported Mr 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, Mr Berlusconi yanked his party's support, accusing Mr Monti's government of leading Italy into a "spiral of recession".

Mr Monti promptly resigned, forcing elections to be moved up by about two months.

Mr Monti had long said he would not run for office but would be available to serve the country if asked.

European leaders, however, made clear they wanted Mr 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 Mr Monti weighed whether to enter the fray, Mr Berlusconi initially offered an alliance, aware that he could use the votes that a Monti-headed centrist coalition might bring.

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

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

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