Berlusconi will 'absolutely not' seek new term

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The Independent Online

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would not run again when his term expires in 2013 and nominated Justice Minister Angelino Alfano as his successor to lead the centre right into the next election.

In a wide-ranging interview with the daily La Repubblica published on Friday, the 74 year-old premier criticised his own economy minister, promised to modify an austerity package and repeated his intention to stand aside from official duties.

"Absolutely not," he said, when asked whether he would stand again. "The candidate for premier on the centre right will be Alfano. If I could, I would give it up now."

Berlusconi, who is fighting allegations of corruption and of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute, has made similar remarks on a number of occasions recently. He has already named the 40 year-old Alfano, named this month as secretary-general of the ruling People of Freedom party, as his successor.

"I will campaign and I will help Angelino. I will act as 'patron'. I will try to build the EPP (European People's Party) in Italy. But at 77 years of age, I can't be prime minister."

He also ruled out any bid to become president of Italy, saying he believed the position as head of state should go to Gianni Letta, his chief of staff and most trusted aide.

Berlusconi dismissed concerns that allies including the restive, pro-devolution Northern League would reject Alfano, a Sicilian lawyer, as the new head of the centre right.

"Why not? I've already spoken about it. I think everyone agrees," he said.

Berlusconi's government has been struggling in recent months, slipping in the opinion polls and suffering sharp losses in local elections and referendums.

Tensions within the coalition have been heightened by an austerity budget aimed at eliminating the deficit in 2014 and shielding Italy from the Greek debt crisis.

Berlusconi promised the budget - closely watched by markets and ratings agencies for any signs of being watered down - would be modified in parliament and took a swipe at his economy minister, Giulio Tremonti, who drew up the package.

"He is worried about the markets, I understand him. But I always remind him that in politics the result is made up of consensus and votes. He isn't interested in consensus, but we are," he said.

"So, without changing the overall sum, we will change the budget in parliament."

Italian media have long speculated that there is a widening rift between Berlusconi and Tremonti, who has been considered a potential successor to the media magnate.

In the La Repubblica interview, Berlusconi made his most explicit criticism in recent months of the economy minister.

"You know, he thinks he's a genius and that everyone else is stupid," Berlusconi said. "I put up with him because I've known him for a long time and one has to accept the way he is. But he's the only one who is not a team player."