* Berlusconi demands share of government with centre-left
* Grillo's 5-Star Movement seeks mandate to govern
* Centre-left leader Bersani to meet head of state later on
By James Mackenzie
ROME, March 21 Italy's divided political parties
remained far apart on Thursday as President Giorgio Napolitano
tried to form a government after last month's deadlocked
election left no group with a majority in parliament.
The election gave Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi
Bersani's centre-left alliance with the leftist SEL party a
majority in the lower house but not in the Senate, leaving it
unable to govern without the support of other parties.
The stalemate has revived fears of a prolonged bout of
instability in the euro zone's third largest economy just as as
the crisis over bank deposits in Cyprus has revived fears of a
return of financial market turmoil.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi repeated his demand
on Thursday that Bersani form a coalition with his conservative
bloc and that Napolitano's successor as head of state should be
from the centre-right. Napolitano's term ends on May 15.
That offer has already been firmly rejected by Bersani, who
is due to meet Napolitano at 6.00 p.m. (1700 GMT) but Berlusconi
said there was no alternative.
"There are two forces still in play, us and the Democratic
Party, and at this moment the responsibility to give a
government to the country lies with both of us," he told
reporters after meeting Napolitano.
Berlusconi received some encouragement on Thursday from
opinion polls showing the centre-right and centre-left neck and
If no agreement can be struck, Italy faces the prospect of a
brief period under a caretaker government before heading for new
elections, possibly as early as June or after the summer holiday
months, in September or October.
With the country in deep recession, record unemployment and
a 2-trillion-euro debt pile that remains vulnerable to the kind
of financial market crisis that struck in 2011, business leaders
and European partners are deeply concerned at the stalemate.
Bersani has said he will present a limited programme of
policies, focused on institutional reform, fighting corruption
and creating jobs and seek the backing of parliament, even if he
does not have any formal coalition agreement in advance.
For its part, Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star
Movement (MS5), which holds the balance of power in parliament,
asked Napolitano for a mandate of its own, though it declined to
say who it would present as prime minister.
The head of the 5-Star Senate group, Vito Crimi, said the
party presented its platform of policies to Napolitano,
including a referendum on Italy's future in the euro and
measures on issues including tax and party finance reform.
Grillo made clear the movement would not support a coalition
led by any other party.
"MS5 will not give any confidence vote to political or
pseudo-technocrat governments," Grillo said on his blog.
He explicitly rejected one option, widely mooted in Italian
newspapers, that the newly elected speaker of the Senate, former
anti-mafia judge Pietro Grasso, could be asked to form a
Grasso is seen as a potential replacement for Bersani, whose
position has been under threat ever since the election in which
the centre-left threw away a 10 point lead. He said on Thursday
that he was "ready to serve for the good of the country".
Italy's main banking association ABI said on Thursday that
Italy had "two great interconnected emergencies" - an urgent
need to reform its institutions, and an economy in need of
reforms to cut debt and restart growth.
"We need an authoritative government that can operate
efficiently on both," it said in a statement.
Underlining the problems facing any new administration, a
government source said Prime Minister Mario Monti's caretaker
government was considering raising the deficit target for 2013
above the current level of 1.8 percent of gross domestic