ROME Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday he was only joking when he suggested that Italy should dump the euro unless the European Central Bank agreed to inject more cash into the economy.
"We have to go to Europe and say forcefully that the ECB should start printing money. If it doesn't, we should have the strength to say 'ciao, ciao' and leave the euro," Berlusconi said on Friday in an entry on his Facebook page.
Less than 24 hours later, the former leader reversed his position, which clashed with that of Prime Minister Mario Monti and threatened to undermine the government almost a year ahead of the next national vote.
"That a joke ... could be mistaken for a proposal is certainly a serious mistake for whoever claims to provide political news," Berlusconi wrote on Saturday on his Facebook page.
He said the press had taken seriously what he had said "with a smile and irony".
Berlusconi's People of Liberty (PDL) party is one of the two main blocs supporting Monti's government of technocrats, which was brought to power in November precisely to prevent Italy from defaulting on its debt and destroying the single currency.
The Italian media underscored on Saturday that it would be impossible for the PDL to continue supporting Monti if it openly campaigned against the euro.
The 75-year-old Berlusconi, having given up leadership of the party amid an ongoing trial on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute, appears to be hankering for a comeback as next year's elections approach.
The PDL, blamed for failing to reform the economy, took a drubbing in local elections last month, when Italians embraced the Five-Star Movement, an anti-euro protest bloc led by comedian Beppe Grillo.
Berlusconi has a long track record of saying provocative things and backtracking later.
Less than a month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings in September 2008, then-Prime Minister Berlusconi said world leaders were considering closing international markets to "rewrite the rules of international finance".
With an hour, he denied the comments, which had sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling more than 8 percent, saying no leader was thinking of shutting the markets and that it was a rumour he had "heard on the radio".
(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)