ROME Italian politicians resumed their bickering on Wednesday, with supporters of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi taking aim at his successor Mario Monti despite a Christmas call from the Pope for political peace.
Just before midnight at the end of Christmas Day, Monti tweeted: "Together, we saved Italy from disaster. Now we have to renew politics. Complaining won't help anything. Rolling up sleeves will. Let's rise to politics!"
That irked centre-right supporters of Berlusconi, who resigned last year to let Monti take over and is now scrapping with centre-left and pro-Monti centrist blocs ahead of elections due February 24-25.
"Monti did not save Italy, he merely reaped the merits of four year of work by Berlusconi", said Gianfranco Rotondi, a parliamentarian from Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.
Anna Maria Bernini, also of the PDL, accused Monti of spouting "pure propaganda", adding: "It is shocking to see how a man can present himself as a saviour after bringing the country to recession, taking all the merit (for successes) and attributing all the disasters to others."
The mud-slinging took place less than a day after Pope Benedict urged Italian politicians in a Christmas address to "favour the spirit of cooperation for the common good".
Monti resigned last week as promised after the budget was passed, and is staying on in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new government after the elections. Although his exact plans for after the elections are not entirely clear, he is expected to remain influential.
Berlusconi has said it would be "immoral" for Monti to fight the election after governing as an unelected premier with the support of the main parties.
But not all of the centre right opposes the prime minister. Italia Libera (A Free Italy), a group of 11 parliamentarians who have defected from Berlusconi's PDL, praised Monti's economic reform plans as "a Copernican revolution for those who are used to something that is as erosive and unproductive as the duel between forces for or against Berlusconi".
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)