Berlusconi says would back Draghi as Italy president; ECB demurs

ROME Tue Jan 15, 2013 8:06am EST

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures before the taping of the talk show ''Telecamere'' at Rai television in Rome January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures before the taping of the talk show ''Telecamere'' at Rai television in Rome January 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Remo Casilli

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ROME (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday he would back Mario Draghi if the head of the European Central Bank was proposed as the country's next president, a prospect the bank ruled out.

Berlusconi, who will lead a center-right coalition into national elections next month, said former Bank of Italy governor Draghi would be a good successor to current head of state Giorgio Napolitano, who will step down by May.

"Absolutely yes, if there is a majority that proposes (Draghi)..., I would vote for him," Berlusconi said on a morning talk show on La7 television.

In Frankfurt, the ECB said Draghi was committed to seeing out his tenure at the bank.

"Mario Draghi's term of office as President of the ECB is eight years until 31 October, 2019. He is committed to serve his term fully," a spokesman said.

Berlusconi, whose coalition has been closing an opinion poll gap with its center-left rivals, had earlier said he had a candidate in mind to be the next president who would be acceptable to the left, but did not want to reveal his name for fear of spoiling his chances.

Draghi, who is widely respected in Italy, succeeded Jean-Claude Trichet as ECB chief in 2011.

Italy's new president will be chosen after the elections, which take place on February 24-25.

The president is appointed for a seven-year term by a joint sitting of both houses of parliament as well as representatives of the 20 regions.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Paul Carrel in Frankfurt; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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