Rome - Italy's outgoing prime minister Mario Monti criticised election rival Silvio Berlusconi over family values in an interview on Wednesday in which he also defended his record on reforms and fighting the eurozone debt crisis.
"Berlusconi has used unsuitable weapons against me, like family values. Say no more," Monti said in an interview with Rai public radio in a thinly-veiled reference to the flamboyant media tycoon's much-publicised sex scandals.
Three-time prime minister Berlusconi has launched an extraordinary sixth bid for election in two decades in politics with a series of attacks on Monti, a former European commissioner and economist who took his place in November 2011.
Monti is leading a coalition of small centrist parties and movements with a platform of liberal economic reforms and greater engagement with Europe, against Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic Party and Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.
Early elections were called last month after Berlusconi pulled his party's support for Monti in parliament and are scheduled for 24-25 February.
"Berlusconi confuses me with his logic and sometimes with his excessive praise... First he says that the government has been a disaster, then that it did everything it could. I hope voters are less confused then me," Monti said.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The 69-year-old caretaker premier also defended the record in office of his unelected technocratic government, saying it had managed to crack down on rampant tax evasion and avert a looming disaster on Italy's public finances.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is closer than before and I am far more optimistic that in the meantime the tunnel will not collapse and destroy us as it threatened to do," he said, referring to the situation when he took power.
Turning to Europe, he said he would be an "incisive" member of the European Council as prime minister.
"I believe that in the European Union I am known for what I did as commissioner and in these 13 difficult months as premier," he said.
Asked about the explicit endorsement for his election campaign from the Vatican, Monti said: "I don't know if I've been blessed by the Church. It's important for me and for my conscience as are other encouragements."