Italy parliament to open March 15, buying parties time

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano said Tuesday that the new parliament would open on March 15, giving political leaders time to try to bring an end to a stalemate following an inconclusive election last month.

"Both chambers will be convened on March 15," which leaves "ample time for a fruitful preparatory phase of consultations... towards the formation of the government," Napolitano said in a statement.

Rival party leaders have been left attempting to form a coalition government following the February 24-25 election, which saw the centre-left scrape to victory but fail to gain a key majority in the upper house of parliament.

The left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, has made overtures to the protest Five Star Movement (M5S), which enjoyed a huge success at the polls -- but it has so far refused to negotiate.

Neither party will consider a deal with billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, which came a close second.

As consultations for the formation of a government cannot begin before parliament is in session, there had been calls for it to be opened before the official March 15 date to speed the process along, but Napolitano said Italy's courts needed time to officially check the election results.

Once parliament is open, Napolitano will begin formal talks and experts say he is likely to give a mandate to Bersani to attempt to form a government, as his centre-left coalition has the most votes.

Should the former Communist fail to shore up enough support to govern, the president may appoint a caretaker government to rule for a short period and push through key laws.

As the deadlock continued, outgoing Premier Mario Monti invited Bersani, Berlusconi and M5S leader Beppe Grillo to separate meetings to discuss European Union policy ahead of a an EU summit next week.