Italy protest leader slams presidential vote 'disaster'

Italian protest party leader Beppe Grillo on Thursday slammed a deal between right and left to back former trade union leader Franco Marini for president saying he was "a man of the system" but also held out the possibility of working together with the centre-left.

The candidate, first proposed by the leftist Democratic Party, was in fact "chosen by Berlusconi", Grillo told AFP in an interview during a campaign tour ahead of local elections in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeast Italy.

Marini's election "would be a disaster", Grillo said.

"He was a Christian Democrat, a trade unionist, a speaker of the Senate, he is a man of the system," said the ex-comedian, who leads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party which won a quarter of the vote in February elections.

"He is a president who is a judicial guarantee. He's chosen by Berlusconi. He'll guarantee that Berlusconi stays in place," Grillo said, referring to two trials against the scandal-hit billionaire tycoon and former premier.

Condemning the agreement between leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani and Berlusconi announced on Wednesday, Grillo said: "The leaders of right and left met at night in a room to decide the fate of 60 million people".

Grillo talked up the chances of the candidate supported by his party, academic and civil rights advocate Stefano Rodota, who came in second place in a first round of voting on Thursday revealing deep divisions.

"We'll stick with Rodota... If someone wants to vote for him great, we can collaborate," he said.

Rodota came third in an online poll of Five Star Movement members but the first two -- investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli and medical charity founder Gino Strada -- turned down the offer to stand.

Grillo also said he was willing to work with the leftist Democratic Party although he has refused to give a left-led government a vote of confidence in parliament.

"There are things we can converge on," he said, adding however that their offer to work together was not a genuine one.

"They just wanted our votes. They didn't talk about collaboration," he said, criticising the left's failure to abolish controversial subsidies for political parties or vote on a law that would have banned Berlusconi from parliament.

Referring to the possible conflicts-of-interest law involving Berlusconi and his vast media empire, he said: "If the PD (Democratic Party) did something like that, we would be together."

There was already cooperation on a grassroots level, Grillo said, between his party and young people from the Democratic Party calling for the implementation of unemployment subsidies that was one of his campaign promises.

"Let's start collaborating," he said.

He also reiterated his party's idea that the current deadlock could be overcome if parliamentary commissions are set up and Mario Monti's government stays in place.

"These people have blocked parliament. It's shameful," he said.

"We have a government. Let's work."

Grillo compared the current economic situation in Italy to the period after World War II.

"We want the same spirit in Italy that there was after the war -- the enthusiasm there was despite the country being in ruins, the enthusiasm of helping each other out. The moment is now," he said.