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Berlusconi the Italian pied piper, says Monti as election heats up

SILVIO Berlusconi (pictured) will lead Italians to disaster if elected for a fourth time at next month's elections, the incumbent prime minister Mario Monti has warned.

Mr Monti, who is contesting the election as the leader of a centrist coalition, likened the 76-year-old billionaire to "a pied piper who leads the mice to drown in the river".

Mr Monti's remarks marked his most trenchant criticism to date of his predecessor and intensified the antagonism between the two protagonists just weeks ahead of the February 24-25 election.

Mr Berlusconi hit back, contemptuously dismissing the economics professor and former European commissioner as "un leaderino" – a little leader. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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