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Italian PM Monti visits quake-struck regions in Northern Italy

ITALIAN Premier Mario Monti has inspected the quake-struck region of northern Italy and promised swift government help for stricken businesses, especially small-scale farms and factories.

His visit to the Emilia Romagna region included a stop at a ceramics factory where two workers died after it collapsed. In all, the quake that hit before dawn on Sunday claimed seven lives.

Mr Monti said a Cabinet meeting in Rome later will declare a state of emergency for the stricken area. Also under consideration, he said, is suspending property tax payments while residents rebuild.

The premier expressed confidence there will be a "rapid" rebound for the region. Parmesan cheese production is among the industries hurt by the quake.

Factories, homes, town clock towers, monuments, church steeples and roofs crumbled or partially collapsed in the 6.0 magnitude quake or during aftershocks.

Nearly 6,000 people have been sleeping in tents or cars or have accepted temporary shelter in structures like school gyms after their homes were either destroyed or left perilously unsteady by the quake.

Italy is still tallying up the damage to its artistic heritage, including churches, paintings and sculptures. France has offered to lend a hand when the art works will need restoration, the Italian culture ministry said.

The offer came in a meeting in Cannes, France, on the sidelines of the film festival there, between Italian Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi and his newly appointed French counterpart, Aurelie Filippetti, ministry officials said.