President Giorgio Napolitano warned on Monday that Italy could be plunged into violent social unrest unless the government swiftly introduced reforms to help struggling citizens, following a week of protests in cities across the country.
With the highest debt burden in the euro zone after Greece, Italy - mired in its longest post-war recession - is closely watched by financial markets and European partners as a flash point for instability in the bloc.
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Thousands of Italians have marched over the last week in protests fuelled by falling incomes, unemployment above 12 percent and over 40 percent among people below 25, and graft and scandals among politicians widely seen as serving their own rather than the country's interests.
Though the role of president is usually regarded as largely ceremonial, Napolitano has been forced to intervene several times to exhort squabbling politicians to set aside their differences and agree on reforms to address the crisis.