Rome

Monti puts off end-of-year press conference

Napolitano rejects Berlusconi claim elections being 'rushed'

Monti puts off end-of-year press conference

Rome, December 19 - Premier Mario Monti on Wednesday put off his end-of-year press conference, set for Friday after the scheduled approval of the 2013 budget, without setting a new date. Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has asked for more time to examine the budget, prompting accusations he wants to take advantage of a period before pre-election equal-time broadcasting rules kick in so he can revive his People of Freedom (PdL) party's popularity by campaigning on TV. President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday rejected Berlusconi's contention that there was an unnecessary "rush" to vote, saying the election campaign should not be "prolonged excessively". The Italian media are saying the elections, expected by February 24 at the latest, could now be pushed back to March 3. The budget must by law be passed by the end of the year or the State risks falling into provisional administration. Centre-left Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani said Berlusconi's alleged delaying tactics were "awful" and voiced confidence that the budget could still be passed by the end of the week. The PD currently leads the PdL by more than 10 points in opinion polls although the latest surveys indicate a three-day Berlusconi TV blitz has helped his party draw almost level with former comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, in second. Monti was expected to announce Saturday whether he would stand for premier again, probably as figurehead for a group of centrist parties, but that announcement, too, may be pushed back after the PdL Tuesday said it wanted to go back over the budget "thoroughly". Berlusconi has offered to step back as centre-right leader if Monti agrees to lead all of Italy's centrist and conservative parties "to keep out the left". Pundits say Monti is unlikely to take him up on his offer.

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