ROME Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti rowed back on Thursday from comments suggesting that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had expressed opposition to his political rivals on the center-left days before an election next week.
Monti, leading a centrist coalition in the election, was quoted a day earlier saying that he did not think Merkel had "any wish to see the PD in government", referring to the Democratic Party, the main center-left force which has been leading in opinion polls before the vote.
He made the statement in response to an assertion by his other main rival. Silvio Berlusconi. who had said that Monti and PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani had already agreed to join forces "with Merkel's blessing".
"I wanted to rebut what Berlusconi said yesterday and say that it was not only untrue but implausible," Monti said in a video interview broadcast on the website of the daily Corriere della Sera.
In an increasingly bitter election campaign, Berlusconi has sought to paint Monti as a Merkel subordinate, following "German-centric" austerity policies ordered by Brussels and Berlin that he says have plunged Italy into recession.
Monti in turn has accused the scandal-plagued Berlusconi of damaging Italy's international credibility and has highlighted his own image outside Italy as a guarantor of stability.
He denied "that there was any kind of conversation between me and the PD about an agreement - false - or that Mrs Merkel has even the slightest involvement."
"I'm the one protecting Merkel from any arbitrary involvement in the Italian election that Berlusconi is attributing to her," he said.
He also denied that if he were to seek an agreement with the left he would need the "blessing" of the conservative German chancellor.
"It's a bit paradoxical when you think of it because Merkel and Berlusconi are part of the same political family," he said.
(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)