By NICOLE WINFIELD
ROME (AP) â¿¿ Silvio Berlusconi is vowing to scrap Italy's property tax in his first Cabinet meeting if his coalition is elected, zeroing in on Italians' deep distaste for the tax re-imposed by Mario Monti's government in a bid to boost public coffers.
The former premier outlined his latest "contract" with Italians on Friday as he pressed his comeback bid, promising a host of reforms, incentives and measures to give relief to Italians suffering through a deep recession and youth unemployment at a record 37 percent.
The 76-year-old Berlusconi's voice was strained, and by the end of his hour-plus monologue his hands were shaking and he slumped into his seat afterward. But his press office quickly denied any problem, saying he was merely tired after a strenuous performance.Berlusconi started the program on the stage with Angelino Alfano, his heir-apparent and stated candidate for premier if his center-right coalition wins the Feb. 24-25 vote. Alfano took the podium for a bit, but Berlusconi returned for a solo finale to list his previous governments' accomplishments and outline the program for a future center-right government, again raising questions about whether he or Alfano is really the main candidate. Berlusconi's People of Freedom party and its allies are currently trailing the center-left in polls some 27 percent to 38 percent. Monti's civic movement is garnering about 14 percent. Monti was tapped by Italy's president to lead the country after Berlusconi was forced to resign in November 2011, under pressure from financial markets that had lost faith in his ability to push through reforms to reduce Italy's public debt and enact financial reforms. Under Monti's leadership and thanks to the European Central Bank's bond-buying program, Italy's borrowing costs have come down. But ordinary Italians have grown disillusioned with the tax hikes and other austerity measures amid recession and rising unemployment.