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Berlusconi spoke Sunday evening to the nation in a televised message, his first public comment since stepping down after 3 1/2 years in office.

“I resigned out of a sense of responsibility and of state, to ward off more speculative financial attacks on Italy,” he said.

Looking somber, Berlusconi said he was “sad” that his “generous gesture” of resignation was greeted by “hoots and insults” from crowds outside Parliament. He vowed to keep up his efforts to “renew Italy” through his continued presence as a lawmaker.

Most centrists and center-left parties in the opposition pledged their support Sunday for a Monti government, saying the former European Union competition commissioner has the moral authority and economic know-how to get Italy to pass long-delayed structural economic reforms.

“Italian parties are at fork in the road. Either they speculate on the situation, hoping that they can get some campaign capital from it, or they take up their responsibilities to save the country,” said centrist opposition leader Pier Ferdinanco Casini, expressing hope that a new government could last until elections are scheduled for spring 2013.

But Umberto Bossi said his Northern League party won’t back any Monti-led government “for now.” Bossi said he told Napolitano that his party, whose support kept Berlusconi’s conservative coalition in power for years, will be a “vigilant” opposition to any Monti government until the economist spells out his plans.

“For now, we said, ‘no.’ Then we’ll see the program and decide, time by time” whether to support specific legislation, Bossi said. “In any case, we won’t give him any blank check.”

Bossi’s party has been demanding early elections instead. He also has opposed one key remedy, a pension reform that raises the retirement age for women.

But many financial experts say even the new austerity measures passed Saturday are not enough to revive the dormant Italian economy. They raised the retirement age to 67, but not until 2026. They also called for the sale of state property and privatizing some services but contained no painful labor reforms.