Italy's Berlusconi says will back protege for PM

ROME (AFP) - Italy's Silvio Berlusconi on Monday said he would back his protege Angelino Alfano to be the next prime minister if the centre-right coalition he leads wins next month's general election.

"If we win as a coalition, and I am sure we will, we will indicate Angelino Alfano as candidate for prime minister," Mr Berlusconi told news channel SkyTG24.

There have been weeks of uncertainty over whether Mr Berlusconi is really running for prime minister or not and his comments have been highly ambiguous.

Mr Berlusconi said his coalition ally, the populist Northern League party, agreed with the choice of Mr Alfano, a former justice minister under Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Alfano, 42, is national secretary of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

In an earlier interview on Monday, three-time prime minister Berlusconi said he would prefer being economy minister to being prime minister again.

The flamboyant billionaire announced his candidacy last month saying Prime Minister Mario Monti's government had failed to restore the economy.

Mr Monti, who leads a centrist coalition, earlier on Monday referred to Mr Berlusconi as "a pied piper who leads the mice to drown in the river.

"He has already fooled Italians three times," Mr Monti said in an interview.

Mr Monti was appointed by parliament in November 2011 following Berlusconi's sudden resignation caused by a parliamentary revolt and a wave of panic on the financial markets that brought Italy to the brink of bankruptcy.

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