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ECB to start buying Italian bonds on Monday: minister

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(ROME) - The European Central Bank (ECB) has agreed to start buying up Italian bonds from Monday in return for a promise from the government to accelerate deficit cuts, an Italian minister said on Friday.

"Everyone is afraid our bonds will turn into scrap paper but by returning to budget balance one year early, the ECB has guaranteed that from Monday it will buy our bonds," Federalism Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi told reporters.

"For us it's a solution, a guarantee," said Bossi, who is also the leader of the Northern League party, the main partner in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition.

"We absolutely need bonds because if we can't sell them we won't be able to pay pensions or healthcare so this is obligatory for us," he added.

Berlusconi earlier on Friday announced that Italy would accelerate a package of austerity measures adopted by parliament last month to ensure budget balance is reached in 2013 instead of 2014 as forecast earlier.

Italy's stock and bond markets have been badly hit in recent weeks by investor nerves over the size of its public debt, low economic growth rate as well as tensions within the government.

The difference between the risk premium on Italian 10-year government bonds and benchmark German bonds has risen to record highs in recent days.

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