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Italy hit with 10 percent defense cuts

ROME, May 28 (UPI) -- With Europe facing a debt crisis, Italy's government looks set to slash 10 percent off its defense budget.

The prescribed cut is due to hit the Defense Ministry in 2011 and could imperil the top-up funds Italy's armed forces receive from the Industry Ministry and other sources.

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The measures come as NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned against drastic defense cuts, saying they could threaten international stability and limit growth prospects.

"All governments should be aware of the long-term impact of too deep cuts in defense budgets because we know from experience that economic growth is very much dependent on a secure international environment," Rasmussen told The Times of London.

"We know that instability and insecurity hamper economic growth. So if we make too deep cuts in defense budgets it might have a long-term negative impact on economic growth."

Italy isn't the only nation member drawing battle plans to attack its defense budget. Greece and Portugal -- the weakest financial links in the single European currency-- have announced draconian cuts.

Those measures precipitated Britain, France, Denmark and Italy to consider similar action in a bid to curb public spending.

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In Italy, the austerity measures -- intended to save $29.4 billion -- are expected to have a sweeping impact on the salaries of defense officials.

The reason? To escape an all out assault by speculators and hedge funds that drove Greece to the brink of bankruptcy, seeking a multibillion-dollar bailout package from the European Union.

Italy's 10 percent cut caps defense budget reductions initiated last year. The country's defense spending stands at around $16 billion, down 0.4 percent from 2009.

Rome's austerity drive has inflamed opposition.

"This would be a dangerous cut to make," said lawmaker Mauro Del Vecchio. "Maintenance and operations would be the most delicate area, with the reduction in flight and navigation hours, which affects operational capabilities."

Other lawmakers accused the government of doing too little to redistribute its military sources before taking to budget cuts.

"The commission set up to look at defense reorganization in the wake of the first cuts produced a document that merely said nationalization was needed but did not say how," said opposition Sen. Roberta Pinotti. "Those cuts were dramatic; this new cut will be devastating."

The cuts were also announced as Italy geared to send troops to Afghanistan, limiting its presence in other field operations, including the Balkans.

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