Berlusconi says he will not stand in spring election

Silvio Berlusconi, the former premier, said yesterday that he may not stand in elections next spring, and suggested that Mario Monti, the technocrat Prime Minister, could stay on as head of a centre-right government.

Mr Berlusconi's comments, which revealed his fears that the centre-left will win the vote, indicated he had abandoned hope of winning enough support to mount a credible campaign as leader of the centre-right, which is trailing heavily in opinion polls.

They were greeted with scepticism by many analysts, who saw the comments as a tactical move that underlined the weakness of Mr Berlusconi's badly divided camp and said little about the likelihood of Mr Monti returning after the election.

Mr Monti himself has repeatedly said he will not stand for election but would be willing to stay on for the sake of the country if there was political deadlock.