* Berlusconi suggests Monti could be centre-right's
* Comments add to political uncertainty
* Opponents pour scorn on "confused" Berlusconi
By Barry Moody and James Mackenzie
ROME, Dec 12 Silvio Berlusconi offered on
Wednesday to stand back and make way for Mario Monti as Italy's
next leader if the outgoing technocrat premier agreed to run as
the candidate for a centre-right coalition.
At a book launch in Rome, Berlusconi issued a series of
rambling and contradictory statements, although he confirmed he
was currently still standing as the centre-right candidate in
Monti announced on Saturday that he planned to resign,
shortly after Berlusconi had said he would be the candidate of
his People of Freedom (PDL) party in an election expected in
Monti has not decided whether he will stand for prime
minister despite being strongly wooed by centrist parties,
European leaders and investors who want him to continue his
austerity policies. They are deeply concerned about a return by
the scandal-plagued Berlusconi.
Monti replaced Berlusconi a year ago as recession-hit Italy
teetered on the brink of a Greek-style debt crisis, and has
since restored its international respect.
Since the weekend, Berlusconi has repeatedly attacked
Monti's policies, saying they have brought Italy to the edge of
an abyss, and bitterly criticised Germany.
On Wednesday, he said Monti's policies had been dictated by
the left and again accused Germany of profiting from the euro
"It is undeniable that we are worse off now. Every
statistic is worse than a year ago. Italians are desperate," he
The suggestion that Italy was on the edge of a precipice
before he handed over to Monti was a "colossal lie", he added.
"NO PERSONAL AMBITIONS"
But in another of his now routine switches of position, he
said he would support Monti as the candidate for a "moderate"
coalition opposed to the centre-left, which is comfortably ahead
in opinion polls.
"I proposed to Monti to be the candidate as leader for the
moderate centre and he said he didn't want to. If his position
changes, I would have no problem to step back ... I have no
personal ambitions," Berlusconi said.
Berlusconi's rivals poured scorn on his remarks.
"Berlusconi is evidently in a confused state if he suggests
making yet another about-turn if Monti runs," said centrist
leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, who was the target of many of
Berlusconi's criticisms on Wednesday.
Berlusconi implictly threatened to bring down the regional
governments in the northern Veneto and Piedmont regions, where
the PDL rules together with the separatist Northern League, if
the latter refused to back his bid to become prime minister for
a fifth time.
League leader Roberto Maroni was quoted in an interview on
Wednesday as saying Berlusconi would have to withdraw as a
candidate if he wanted to seal an election alliance with the
Such a pact is considered vital to the centre-right's
attempt to prevent the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) forming
a stable government after the election.
"Dear Silvio, we can't agree to it if you're in the field.
The League cannot support you if you keep up your candidacy for
prime minister," Maroni was quoted as saying in the daily La
If the rebuff is confirmed, it would deliver a potentially
fatal blow to Berlusconi's hopes of keeping control of the
upper house, the Senate, and securing a spoiler role in the next