ROME Italy's social fabric is being torn by recession and tensions are growing among its citizens, Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Sunday.
Speaking to a group of students in the central Italian town of Arezzo, Monti urged Italians to stick together and "not give up" in the face of a shrinking economy and rising unemployment.
Monti's technocrat government has imposed painful austerity measures since taking office last year, and in recent days ministers have responded to calls from politicians and the media to show more compassion for the plight of ordinary Italians.
"The country is now marked by profound social tensions," Monti said. "It's inevitable that social unease is increasing, that job insecurity fuels a sense of suffering, that there are serious signs of tears in social cohesion."
A wave of highly publicized suicides in the last few weeks, especially among debt-stricken entrepreneurs, has highlighted the human cost of the crisis.
The public tax collection agency, Equitalia, has been the target of a string of letter bomb and petrol bomb attacks [ID:nnL5E8GD0J8], taking the brunt of citizens anger in the face of a credit squeeze and 24 billion euros of tax hikes this year.
Monti said the government was trying to ensure that sacrifices are shared fairly and warned that the economic crisis could become a "cultural" one if Italians failed to show tolerance and solidarity towards one another.
On Thursday Industry Minister Corrado Passera also said he was increasingly concerned by threats to social cohesion posed by the recession.
Monti's popularity has fallen sharply this year and the parties supporting him in parliament have become increasingly critical.
His approval rating plunged six percentage points in a week to 38 percent, a poll by the SWG agency published on Friday showed. That compares with a high of 71 percent in November, just after he took office.
(Reporting By Gavin Jones Editing by Maria Golovnina)