January 22, 2013 / 6:31 PM / in 5 years

Italian centre-left leader says would cut F-35 spending

ROME, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The head of Italy’s main centre-left party, leading in opinion polls ahead of an election next month, said he would cut spending on Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet if he became prime minister.

“Spending on the F-35 must absolutely be revised and limited,” Pier Luigi Bersani said in a taped interview for RAI2’s evening news broadcast which has yet to air, according to a post by his spokesman on Twitter.

“Our priority is not fighter jets, but jobs,” he was quoted as saying.

Last year, Italy cut its F-35 order to 90 warplanes from the 131 it agreed to buy more than a decade ago. That move will save Italy 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion), the defence ministry said.

Bersani’s announcement followed an incident that led the U.S. Navy to ground a version of the fighter jet on Friday. Italy has said it wants that same model of the F-35 for its aircraft carrier.

Pacifist groups and smaller left-wing rivals of Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) have said the 10 billion euros that Italy plans to spend on the fighters should go toward funding the state health-care system, local transport services, and to prevent welfare cuts.

A poll on Friday found that the PD together with its Left, Ecology and Liberty coalition partner held about a 6 percentage-point lead going into the Feb. 24-25 vote, down four points from a week earlier.

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