UPDATE 1-Bank of Italy calls for revision of EU "bail in" rules

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TURIN, Italy, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco on Saturday called for the revision of new European rules that shift the burden of propping up failing banks onto investors, saying they should have been introduced more gradually.

The recent rescue of four small Italian banks under the new, stricter rules, left shareholders and junior bondholders out of pocket and fuelled concerns among investors about the health of the country’s banking system.

“A clause in the Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive provides for its review, to be started no later than June 2018. The opportunity must now be seized,” Visco told a conference.

The directive comprises so-called ‘bail in’ rules Europe adopted in the wake of the financial crisis to avoid a repeat of costly state bailouts of banks. Investors in banks must now take a hit before any public money can be used to help it.

“A gradual, less abrupt transition would have been preferable,” Visco said, stressing Italians were large holders of bank debt due to a favourable tax regime in place until 2011.

Hundreds of Italians lost their savings when the four small lenders were salvaged late last year.

Visco said the climate surrounding the rescue had compounded concerns about Italian banks’ high stock of bad loans in driving sales of Italian banking shares this month.

Milan’s banking index has fallen 23 percent this year as investors zeroed in on 360 billion euros of troubled loans at Italian lenders, nearly a fifth of total lending.

But Visco said Italian banks had strengthened their capital considerably.

“Tensions of this magnitude are not justified by the underlying conditions of Italian banks,” he said.

“As the president of the European Central Bank also recently stressed ... the necessary provisions (against loan losses) were made and there will be no new requests to increase them or to strengthen banks’ capital.”

Visco said it would take time for banks to clear the stock of bad loans piled up during a recession that was worse than the crisis seen in the 1930s.

A scheme Italy agreed with the European Union last week to help lenders sell bad loans would prove useful. But “it must be clear that no reasonably conceivable measure can cancel at a stroke the stock of bad debt,” he said.

He urged banks to tackle bad loans “with determination” and strive to cut costs. (Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Stephen Powell)