Italy's Bersani and Berlusconi discuss presidential vote

Italian centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Tuesday met with rival Silvio Berlusconi to discuss the imminent election of a new president as the deadlock on forming a new government drags on more than a month after elections.

Parliament is due to begin voting on a new president from April 18, but the election has become a key stumbling block between bickering political parties in the eurozone's third largest economy.

The centre-left won the February 24-25 elections but failed to get enough votes for an overall majority in parliament, with Berlusconi's centre-right coming in a very close second and a new anti-establishment protest party in third place.

The one-hour long meeting was held in the chamber of deputies in the Palazzo Montecitorio, with Berlusconi leaving without making any comments.

Angelino Alfano, a spokesman representing Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL), said that although no names had been floated during the meeting, they had discussed the selection of a presidential candidate that would "not be hostile toward PDL".

He added that more meetings will be held to discuss the replacement of the 87-year-old outgoing President Giorgio Napolitano who is due to leave office on May 15.

Enrico Letta, deputy leader of Bersani's Democratic Party, said the meeting was "useful to clarify the criteria for selecting a type of personality who can represent the country's unity".

"We haven't discussed names. First, the criteria need to be defined," he said.

Ahead of the meeting, Bersani said he had a "list of names in my mind, but I'm pragmatic and am open to all types of solutions. The only thing I can rule out is a president who does not have the consensus of the left."

Speaking on RaiTre public television, Bersani also repeated his proposal to lead a "minority government" that would be dependent on votes from rival parties in parliament and reiterated his opposition to a grand coalition with Berlusconi.

"They should stop proposing a grand coalition. If they have some other crazy idea, let them come out with it," Bersani said, despite growing calls from within his own party for dialogue with Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

Bersani also said he was ready to step down if needed, saying: "I am ready to take a step back for my country".

The ex-communist has failed to woo lawmakers from the Five Star Movement, a party that won votes on the back of widespread disillusionment with a culture of political corruption and perks as well as opposition to austerity.

Italy is stuck in its longest recession since the Second World War and the government says the economy will shrink by at least 1.3 percent this year.