ROME Italy remained in political deadlock on Friday after a new round of talks led by President Giorgio Napolitano failed to break the stalemate created by elections last month that left no group able to form a government alone.
Napolitano, 87, conducted a swift round of talks with the three main forces in parliament on Friday after the failure of a week of efforts by center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani to win support for a new government.
But all the parties remained in the same entrenched positions they have occupied since the February 24-25 election, with no sign of movement from any of them.
Bersani won the largest share of the vote in the election but fell short of a majority in parliament.
The third biggest force, Beppe Grillo's populist 5-Star Movement, which holds the balance of power, on Friday again rejected backing a Bersani government or any administration not led by them.
The center-left in turn reiterated that it would not enter a coalition with Berlusconi, which the 76-year-old billionaire media magnate said after his talks with Napolitano was the only way out of the crisis short of a snap new election.
Bersani's deputy, Enrico Letta, said after meeting Napolitano that a coalition with Berlusconi's center-right, "would not be the choice of change the country has asked for."
Berlusconi and 5-Star both ruled out backing a technocrat government like the one led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, whom they both blame for pushing Italy into recession.
This had been seen as a possible alternative way to give Italy the government it needs to address a deep economic crisis.
"Our position has not changed. We expressed it with absolute clarity to the president," Berlusconi told reporters after the meeting with Napolitano.
Grillo on Friday scornfully rejected any idea of giving support for a government not led by his movement.
"Give them a vote of confidence? Those are swear words in the mouths of people like them," Grillo said in a live video broadcast on his popular blog. "They should all just go home."
Bersani says Berlusconi is untrustworthy and also rejects the latter's demand to nominate a successor to Napolitano, whose mandate expires in May.
PRESIDENT'S OPTIONS LIMITED
The refusal by Berlusconi and his allies in the Northern League, as well as Grillo, to back a technocrat government reduces Napolitano's options greatly and makes it much less likely that an independent figure will be able to lead a non-political administration.
"We were against the Monti government and if there is to be another government of that type it's a thousand times better to have new elections," League leader Roberto Maroni said.
The political gridlock has fed growing worries about Italy's ability to confront a prolonged economic crisis that has left it in deep recession for more than a year, with a 2-trillion-euro ($2.6-trillion) public debt and record unemployment, especially among the young.
Rumors have been circulating for days that ratings agency Moody's is preparing to cut its rating on Italy's sovereign debt, which is already only two notches above "junk" grade, partly due to the uncertain political outlook.
Napolitano has made clear that he does not want Italy to go back to new elections immediately, not least because the widely criticized election law is likely to just repeat the deadlock.
He made no announcement after the end of the talks on Friday and officials said he was considering his options. After the failure of the latest round of talks it is not clear what he can do to avoid a quick return to the polls.
Many are already preparing to vote again, with Berlusconi's center-right confident that the momentum created by his surge towards the end of the last campaign will continue.
A poll by the SWG company on Friday showed the center-right had pushed Bersani's bloc into second place since the vote.
(Additional reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Barry Moody and Michael Roddy)