Italy PM Enrico Letta says growth policies a priority

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta speaks in the lower house of parliament in Rome
Image caption Enrico Letta received a standing ovation from coalition members following his inaugural speech

Italy's new prime minister has said growth policies must be urgently adopted to counter an austerity drive under which the country was "dying".

In his first address to parliament, Enrico Letta vowed results in turning the recession-hit economy around within 18 months, or "face the consequences".

He said he would reform electoral law and welfare provision, cut MPs' pay and suspend an unpopular property tax.

His new "grand coalition" won a confidence vote later on Monday.

The lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the new government by a vote of 453 to 153.

The coalition will face a second confidence vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

The broad cross-party alliance, which also includes Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL), was formed after two months of political deadlock following an inconclusive election.

The third strongest force to emerge from the poll, the Five Star Movement led by former comedian, Beppe Grillo, has refused to take part in a coalition.

In his inaugural speech, Mr Letta said he would travel to Berlin and other major European capitals this week to lobby EU partners to switch to more growth-orientated policies.

"Italy is dying from austerity alone," he said. "Growth policies cannot wait."

Mr Letta, who has made reversing Europe's austerity policy one of his central aims, said the EU was suffering "a crisis of legitimacy" and had to return to being "a motor of economic growth".

The first act of government, he said, would be to lead by example by cutting the salaries of ministers who receive a second income for being members of parliament.

He also said the scheduled June instalment of a widely resented property tax would be halted and a reform of the tax discussed.

A spokesman for the PDL said the move was "music to our ears" - the repeal of the tax was a major campaigning platform for Mr Berlusconi's party.

Meanwhile, a police officer remains seriously ill after being shot in the neck on Sunday close to the building where the new parliament was being sworn in.

Doctors said Giuseppe Giangrande, 50, suffered damage to his spinal cord after being shot in front of the premier's office in central Rome.

Mr Giangrande remains under sedation in hospital and is on a ventilator. Neurosurgeons were expected to carry out a medical assessment later on Monday.

A second officer was shot in the leg and remains in hospital.

Police say unemployed Luigi Preiti confessed to carrying out the attack, angry at the loss of his job and the breakdown of his marriage.