Italy's president has dissolved parliament following Premier Mario Monti's resignation, formally setting the stage for general elections in February in which Monti's participation remains unclear.
President Giorgio Napolitano signed the decree Saturday after consulting with political leaders.
Monti, appointed 13 months ago to steer Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis, stepped down Friday after ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi's party withdrew its support for his technical government.
He has scheduled a news conference Sunday during which he is expected to announce whether he will run for office.
Small centrist parties have been courting Monti, but Italian newspapers say he is inclined to refuse. Polls indicate the center-left Democratic Party will win the vote. A Monti-led ticket could deprive the Democrats of votes, but wouldn't be expected to garner anything near a majority.
With the short trip Friday to the president's office, Monti kept his pledge to step down as soon as Parliament approved a budget law.
Napolitano, who chose Monti in November 2011 to come up with reforms to shield Italy from the continent's debt crisis, asked Monti to stay on as head of a caretaker government until the national vote.
In what was his last official public act as premier, Monti earlier told foreign diplomats in Rome that his year-old technical government had rendered the country "more trustworthy."
He called his tenure "difficult but fascinating."
"The work we did ... has made the country more trustworthy, besides more competitive and attractive to foreign investors," Monti told diplomats, who gave him a standing ovation. "I hope that it can continue this way also in the next legislative session."
Monti cited structural reforms, such as measures to improve competition and liberalize services, as well as the recently approved anti-corruption law.
Monti's address to diplomats coincided with the lower house of Parliament's final approval of the budget law, which the premier promised to see through before stepping down.
Monti took over as head of a technical government in November 2011 as Italy's borrowing costs soared in a clear market vote of no-confidence in Silvio Berlusconi's ability to reform Italy's economy.
Monti announced he would resign after Berlusconi's parliamentary party withdrew its support for his government, accelerating national elections now expected in February.
Earlier Friday, Monti quipped that the impending end of his technical government "was not the fault of the Mayan prophecy," referring to a doomsday prediction by some New Agers.
Monti will give his year-end news conference Sunday, when he is expected to announce whether he will participate in the election campaign.
Berlusconi has been toying with a return to electoral politics — after inviting Monti to run under a conservative banner. The leader of the center-left Pier Luigi Bersani is among those critical of a Monti candidacy.
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