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Italy's Monti tops new coalition

The premier, now in a caretaker role, will be represented in February voting.

ROME - Italian Premier Mario Monti announced Friday that he is heading a new campaign coalition made of up centrists, business leaders, and pro-Vatican forces who back his "ethical" vision of politics, aiming for a second mandate in office if his fledging reform movement wins big in parliamentary elections.

After a four-hour huddle with his supporters, Monti ended weeks of speculation at home and abroad about whether the internationally respected economist, who was appointed to head a nonelected government a year ago, would seek a new term, this time given to him by the voters.

He told a hastily convened news conference that the Feb. 24-25 ballot list would carry the banner "Monti Agenda for Italy" or a similar slogan, even if the ballot wouldn't list him per se as a candidate. "A new political formation is born," declared Monti, who, as a senator-for-life doesn't have to run for a parliamentary seat. "Italy must have an evolution in its politics," he said, Instead of the "traditional axis that consists of right and left" Monti contended the axis Italy needs is one "directed at Europe and at reforms to transform our country."

Monti was appointed premier 13 months ago after his scandal-plagued predecessor Silvio Berlusconi failed to stop Italy from sliding deeper into the eurozone debt crisis. He quit this month after Berlusconi pulled his party's support from Monti's government, but is continuing in a caretaker role until the next elections.

For weeks there has been speculation about whether Monti, 69, would run in February, but he has been unwilling to officially campaign. He could take on the premiership if asked to by whatever party or coalition wins - including the grouping he announced Friday.

Monti and his government of technocrats have taken credit for shoring up Italy's finances by pushing through an austerity agenda of pension reform, new taxes, and spending cuts. But critics say he has stymied job creation and left Italy mired in recession.