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Italy's 5-Star, League seek president's backing on PM

University professor Giuseppe Conte likely to be prime minister

Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and League parties will seek the backing of the president on Monday for a prime minister to lead a government whose plans to jack up spending were roiling financial markets.

Eleven weeks after an inconclusive election, the rival parties are poised to put forward a prime minister whose programme - agreed last week - calls for billions of euros in tax cuts, additional spending on welfare for the poor, and a roll-back of pension reforms.

While the premier's name has not been confirmed, Italian media say the leading candidate is a little-known university professor, Giuseppe Conte, who is not a lawmaker, but was proposed as a possible minister by 5-Star before the vote.

President Sergio Mattarella has the final say on who becomes premier. If he should give his blessing after the meetings, which start at 1530 GMT, the parties could put a Cabinet together rapidly and hold confidence votes in parliament later this week.

President Sergio Mattarella has the final say on who becomes premier

Italian bond yields rose sharply on Monday on fears the government will go on a spending spree that will increase an already huge debt pile -- worth more than 130 percent of output - and put it on a collision course with European Union fiscal rules.

Markets were also hammered last week when the two parties presented their government plans.

Over the weekend, both the 5-Star and the League pushed back against concerns over their spending plans.

In a blog post, 5-Star dismissed suggestions they would bust public finances. It said expenditure would be spread over the 5-year legislature and would be accompanied by spending cuts.

League chief Matteo Salvini rejected a call by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire for Italy to respect its EU budget commitments, saying on Twitter: "We will do the opposite of what preceding governments have done. Am I wrong?"

On Monday, European Central Bank council member Ewald Nowotny said he hoped the government's approach would be "much wiser" than what he had read about in newspapers.

CABINET

Italians appear to want the tie-up. Some 60 percent are in favour of a 5-Star/League coalition government, a Demos & Pi poll published on Sunday showed. More than 80 percent of 5-Star and League voters back it, the poll said.

The likely prime minister candidate, the 54-year-old Conte, was put forward before the election as 5-Star's possible pick as public administration minister. He is seen as a compromise candidate, a technocrat who can balance the demands of the rival parties.

Conte has worked as a lawyer as well as an academic, and has studied for brief spells at Yale, New York University, Cambridge and other foreign universities.

Though not in the top post, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and League's Salvini are seen in the Cabinet, according to newspapers.

Di Maio is tapped to become the labour and welfare minister to ensure the passage of the movement's cornerstone election promise, a universal income for the poor.

Salvini, on the other hand, is seen taking over the Interior Ministry, which handles immigration issues. The arrival of more than 600,000 boat migrants on Italians shores over four years fueled the anti-immigrant League's popularity, catapulting it over Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia on the right.

More than one name circulated for the key economy ministry portfolio. Paolo Savona, an 81-year-old economist and former industry minister, was mentioned the most, but Salvini's top adviser Giancarlo Giorgetti could also get the job, newspapers said.

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