Mario Monti is Italy's new prime minister

Mario Monti, an eminent economist and former European commissioner, was Sunday appointed as Italy's new prime minister.

President Giorgio Napolitano has asked Monti to head the new government after Silvio Berlusconi resigned from office Saturday.

Mario Monti. Pic/AFP 

Earlier, Napolitano held meetings with leaders of various political parties as well as former presidents before inviting Monti to form a caretaker government, Xinhua reported.

Monti is expected to push through austerity reforms asked by the European Union (EU) to cut Italy's massive debt and regain market confidence.

"I want to fulfil this task with great sense of responsibility and service towards our country. In a moment particularly hard for Italy, and troubled in Europe and in markets, Italy must meet the challenge of redemption," said Monti at a press conference soon after the appointment.

He added that Italy had to restart growing as "it is for our children to give them dignity and hope".

Earlier last week, Berlusconi had lost majority at the parliament's lower chamber and promised to resign as soon as the austerity measures were approved by both the houses of parliament.

He handed in his resignation Saturday after the lower house passed the austerity measures. The package was cleared by the upper house Friday.

Monti, 68, served as a leading European Commission member between 1995 and 2004, gaining a reputation as a highly capable and tireless worker.

He is now due to present the list of the cabinet ministers to the president and then face a parliament confidence vote as soon as Monday or Tuesday, according to local media.

He received Sunday the backing of the main opposition centre-left Democratic Party and the conditional acceptance of Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom.

"After the appointment, we will meet with Monti and decide to say yes or no according to the composition of the government, its programme and duration," the People of Freedom party's Secretary Angelino Alfano said in an interview with state-run television channel RAI.

The austerity measures include a pledge to raise 15 billion euros ($20.6 billion) from public real estate sales over the next three years and a gradual reduction in state ownership of local services.

The package also requires an increase in the standard retirement age to 67 by 2026, sets the stage for a liberalization of closed professions and labour laws within 12 months, and contains tax incentives for companies that hire apprentice workers.

Many economists also said the measures are not enough to take Italy out of a financial emergency, and Monti will have to push through further reforms.

The next elections are due in 2013. There is no official time limit for the government, although predictions say that Monti will make way for polls once he carries through the measures asked by the EU.

The last time Italy had a caretaker government was in 1995 and 1996, when technocrat Lamberto Dini headed a government that pushed through a series of election reforms after the collapse of Berlusconi's first government.

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