* Monti warns against throwing away benefits of his reforms
* Criticises unrealistic election promises
* Expected to announce will seek 2nd term in next few days
* Senate approves 2013 budget, now passes to lower house
By Jennifer Clark
MELFI, Italy, Dec 20 Prime Minister Mario Monti
on Thursday warned Italians against throwing away the results
achieved by his technocrat government as parliament took another
step towards approving the 2013 budget which will pave the way
to a February election.
"It would be irresponsible to waste the many sacrifices
Italians have made," Monti said in a speech in the southern city
The results of those sacrifices could easily be "swept away"
if voters allowed themselves to be tempted by election promises
which were "far from reality", he said, in comments that seemed
to be directed at centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.
Monti's predecessor, who resigned in November last year as
Italian borrowing costs surged, has promised to immediately
abolish a housing tax introduced by Monti and to slash taxes by
one percentage point every year after that.
Monti's words may well be the opening salvos in an election
campaign of his own. He is widely expected to announce this
weekend that he will participate in some way in the vote, either
by endorsing parties that want him to return as prime minister
or by standing as a candidate himself.
President Giorgio Napolitano said on Wednesday that Feb. 24
seemed the most suitable date for the election.
Monti, who has pushed through reforms of the pension system,
the labour market and parts of the service sector, said Italy
was still "only at the beginning of the structural reforms"
needed to make the country more competitive.
On Thursday parliament took an important step towards
passing the 2013 budget, the last piece of outstanding
legislation before elections can be called, when the Senate
easily approved the bill in a vote of confidence.
The budget, which aims to lower Italy's fiscal gap to 1.8
percent of output in 2013 from a targeted 2.6 percent this year,
now passes to the Chamber of Deputies, where it is due to be
passed either on Friday or Saturday.
If things move quickly as some commentators expect, Monti
could then tender his resignation this weekend and immediately
hold a news conference to clarify his intentions in the