* Berlusconi says Monti is "spare wheel" of left-wing party
* Centrist leaders deny hidden accord with left
* Centre left urges Monti to clarify his position
ROME/MILAN, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday
condemned outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti's plan to lead a
centrist alliance in Italy's election in February, accusing him
of a plot to favour the left, but centrist leaders denied any
Monti, who replaced Berlusconi as prime minister last year
as Italy scrambled to avert a financial crisis, said on Friday
he wanted to unite a broad coalition of factions around a reform
agenda aimed at easing the country's economic woes.
Monti ended weeks of speculation when he confirmed his bid
for a second term, pitting him against the centre-left
Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi's centre-right People of
Freedom (PDL) party in a three-way contest.
Speaking to reporters at Milan Central railway station,
Berlusconi said Monti wanted to help the left secure power after
the Feb. 24-25 election so he could continue his austerity
agenda of tax hikes and spending cuts.
"This grouping has been formed to favour the left - also the
harmony with the left's programme they have celebrated heads in
this direction," he said, after earlier describing Monti as "the
spare wheel" of the PD in an interview with Vista TV.
The 76-year-old billionaire, who caught the train from Rome
with his new 27-year-old partner, Francesca Pascale, said he did
not believe Italian voters would "fall into the trap" which he
said was aimed at stealing votes from the centre right.
But Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of Italy's oldest and
largest centrist party, the UDC, which is cooperating with
Monti, strongly denied the accusations.
"Our initiative was not born with the support of the PD. It
has not been started with a predetermined alliance ... until
election day, what's important is aiming for the majority,"
Casini said at a news conference on Saturday.
"PHASE OF RESPONSIBILITY"
Opinion polls suggest the PD, under Pier Luigi Bersani, will
win a comfortable lower house majority but may have to strike a
deal with centrist forces in the Senate, where the centre left
has struggled to gain control in past elections.
The PD, which has pledged to maintain Monti's broad reform
course while putting more emphasis on jobs and growth, has urged
the 69-year old technocrat to clarify the approach the centrist
forces will take towards the left.
"Will they present themselves as alternatives, as rivals, or
as open to an alliance?" Bersani asked on SkyTG24 television on
Friday, saying that the centre left would be open to discuss an
accord when Monti's position is clear.
Monti, a former European Commissioner, is a favourite with
international investors, the Catholic Church and the business
establishment, and has been widely credited with restoring
Italy's credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi years.
"For the first time an atmosphere is forming that points
towards the future for a Europe that needs Italy and a country
that wants to change deeply," centrist leader Casini said on
"From yesterday we are putting behind us the empty electoral
promises, populism, demagoguery, fake assurances, a phase of
responsibility is beginning," he said.
The PD has so far maintained a tone of polite respect for
Monti, in contrast to Berlusconi's attacks on his
"Germano-centric" austerity policies, which he blames for
deepening a severe recession and fuelling record unemployment.
The media tycoon also said on Saturday he was disappointed
that Monti had made a bid for a second term because the
economics professor had told him he would not use the exposure
gained as an unelected technocrat for future political motives.
Berlusconi added that if the centre right won the election
he would launch an investigation into Monti's ascent to power.