Italy approves $98b austerity package

Updated: 2011-07-16 14:33


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ROME - The lower house of Italy's parliament on Friday approved a austerity budget worth over 70 billion euros (about $98 billion) aimed at securing public finances and reassuring global markets on the country's financial solidity.

The package, seen as crucial to keep the eurozone's third largest economy afloat in the lingering debt crisis, was passed in the House of Deputies by 314 votes to 280 with two abstentions, according to local news agency Ansa.

The mix of spending cuts and tax measures, aimed at reaching budget balance and cutting down Italy's elevated debt levels by 2014, was approved Thursday by the Senate, the upper house.

The government had initially approved a 47-billion-euro ($66 billion) budget but then deemed it insufficient in protecting Italy from the risk of a debt crisis.

Amid renewed fears for a spill-over of the debt crisis to Italy, the budget plan was approved in record time of just one week, as the parliament moved in a frenetic rush to shield the country from debt speculation, and send a positive message to markets after days of stock falls.

Friday's parliamentary vote was hailed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Talking on the sidelines of the parliament session, Berlusconi said the government wanted to reduce taxes as promised for Italians, but couldn't afford to do so because "times are very hard and right now this is not possible".

"But I have worked for the benefit of all," he assured.

In his speech at the Senate on Thursday, Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti also acknowledged the budget plan to be necessary, "because without budget balance the monster of debt, heredity of the past, would swallow our future," he warned.