Italy protest leader vows to export revolution to Europe

Italian protest party leader Beppe Grillo on Thursday told AFP he would export his brand of anti-establishment politics to Europe in a "revolution without the guillotine -- for now".

The tousle-haired former comedian, who has shaken Italy's political system by winning a quarter of the vote in February elections, said he was not afraid of being called a "clown" and called into question the future of the euro.

"This is the greatest revolution in history. This is a revolution without the guillotine -- for now," he said in an interview during a campaign stop for local elections in northeast Italy's Friuli Venezia Giulia region.

"In Europe, we are getting organised. They are getting organised. There are movements in Spain that are taking inspiration from us," said the 64-year-old, whose movement now has 163 deputies and senators in parliament.

"This has gone beyond the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street," he said.

Grillo also slammed the presidential candidate favoured in voting that began in the Italian parliament on Thursday, saying former trade unionist Franco Marini was a "man of the system" who had been chosen only as legal protection for the scandal-tainted Silvio Berlusconi.

He held out hope that other lawmakers would vote for his party's candidate for president, respected academic and civil rights advocate Stefano Rodota, saying: "We'll stick with Rodota. ... If someone wants to vote for him great, we can collaborate."

Grillo is seen as an inspirational guru-like figure by his supporters but has been heavily criticised for populist and uncosted reform proposals and a brash style against dissidents within his own movement.

In the wake of the February 24-25 elections, British weekly The Economist said the vote was a victory for the "clowns" Grillo and Berlusconi.

"Clown is not a bad word. Clowns are people who evoke positive feelings. I used to be a comedian and I have a particular empathy with people," said Grillo, speaking in a hotel lobby before a rally in the seaside town of Grado.

He also defended himself against accusations by Italian news weekly L'Espresso that he had offshore investments in Costa Rica, saying the article was "revenge" for his proposal to cut subsidies for newspaper publishers.

Grillo said the money belonged to his wife and his brother-in-law, adding: "In any case I can have all the companies in the world. It's not public money. I earned it."

-- 'We want a Plan B for survival' --

Asked about his plans to hold a referendum on euro membership, Grillo said he was personally undecided whether to keep the currency or not.

"The euro is not Europe. Now it's all based on financial speculation, on banks, on bond spreads. We want a Plan B for survival," he said.

Grillo also rejected criticism of his stance against supporting the main centre-left coalition which narrowly won elections, saying: "They just wanted our votes. They didn't talk about collaboration."

"There are these dinosaurs who have been here for 30 years. The country is in ruins. They are the ones who ruined it. They were inside the system. They destroyed this great country and now they tell us to save it," he said.

Italy is suffering its worst recession since the post-war period, and big business and trade unions have urged political leader to act quickly to form a new government.

But Grillo said his party had been clear from the start that to keep its protest edge it would not ally itself with anyone in parliament.

"Maybe some people are disappointed that we didn't change Italy in two weeks. They shouldn't have voted for us," he said, adding: "If you don't respect our rules, you should join the PD" -- the Democratic Party.

He also accused mainstream parties of stalling on a new government in order to come up with "a dodgy deal".

"They want to wait until September to see what happens but the economy in this country will be over by September," he said.

Grillo said the conflictual language in parliament was not reflected at the grassroots level, and that his movement was already working with young people on both sides of the political divide.

"Young people understand ideas, they are beginning to understand that this is not about left and right. There are things we can converge on. Young people are already there."