Berlusconi won't debate premier, 'not in the running'

Centre-right wants showdown between likely winners

Berlusconi won't debate premier, 'not in the running'

(see previous) Rome, February 18 - A political face-off should happen "between candidates who are in the running and (Premier Mario) Monti is not," ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday. Italians, who are set to go to the polls next Sunday and Monday, have yet to see the main political leaders debate against each other because of disputes about who should take part. Outgoing premier Monti said Monday that Berlusconi, his predecessor, was scared of facing him in a televised election debate, a suggestion Berlusconi dismissed. Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, whose coalition was ahead in the polls before a pre-election blackout of surveys kicked in earlier this month, wants the leaders of the six main groups to take part. Monti, who is standing on a reform platform backed by centrist parties, thinks he, Berlusconi and Bersani should take part. Berlusconi, whose centre-right coalition had been gaining ground on the centre left before the poll blackout, reiterated his position on Monday that it should be a straight showdown between him and Bersani, without Monti. "I'm in favour of a TV debate, but between the only two people who have a chance of winning," Berlusconi said on Italian radio. Monti, who took the helm of an emergency administration of unelected technocrats when Italy's financial crisis forced Berlusconi to resign as premier in November 2011, responded by accusing the 76-year-old media magnate of cowardice.

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