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Italy legislators under fire for austerity no-show
* Commentators, bloggers, critical of low turnout
* Austerity is painful mix of tax hikes, spending cuts
* Politicians were already criticised over perks
By Philip Pullella
ROME, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Only a handful of Italian politicians broke off their holidays to help process a multi-billion-euro austerity package the government says is vital to thwart a debt crisis, enraging the public and papers alike.
Newspapers ran pictures of an almost empty upper house, where on Wednesday night only 11 of its 315 senators turned up for the formal depositing of the 45.5 billion euro ($65 billion) package with screening committees.
While their presence was not strictly necessary, the irony of the deserted chamber was not lost on commentators.
"While they are decreeing blood and tears for Italians, they don't even have the courage to show their faces," the Il Messaggero newspaper quoted one blogger as saying on Thursday.
The conservative Il Giornale newspaper, its criticism all the more pungent because it is owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said: "This clearly does not make for a pretty picture of the political class of this country."
The mix of tax increases and spending cuts was announced last week to meet European Central Bank demands for action on shoring up Italy's strained public finances.
They came on top of an initial austerity package of 48 billion euros in July that will force Italians to pay higher taxes, pay more for health care and delay retirement.
When the first cuts were announced, commentators and bloggers demanded that politicians take their share of the pain by renouncing perks and privileges. Only 0.016 percent of those cuts applied to the political class.
"I don't know whether I should consider myself an upstanding person or a total idiot," Giacomo Santini, one of the 11 senators, told La Repubblica newspaper, which called the gathering a "senate in summer dress".
Santini, who travelled some 600 km (375 miles) from his constituency near the border with Austria to attend the session, said: "It is scenes like this that sometimes make me regret having entering politics."
The latest package was passed largely at the insistence of the ECB, which demanded action in return for agreeing to protect Italian bonds by buying them on the market.
Italy has the second highest public debt burden in the euro zone at 120 percent of gross domestic product but had until recently avoided the crisis thanks to a relatively modest budget deficit and a generally conservative financial system.
However doubts about its chronically slack growth and its divided centre-right government led to a sharp turnaround in market sentiment last month. (editing by Elizabeth Piper) ($1 = 0.692 Euros)
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