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Italian government austerity drive BMWs, Jaguars, Maseratis put on eBay

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Italy's government is selling off scores of official cars.

Jaguars, Alfas and Maseratis on online auction site eBay as the government strives to show that it is responding to public pressure to cut spending and the privileges of the powerful.

A total of 151 vehicles, including 40 BMWs, are up for sale - a fraction of a 60,000-strong fleet owned by Italy's public bodies that the state estimates costs more than 1 billion euros (S$1.7 billion) a year to run.

The auction is, however, unlikely to make a dent in Italy's two trillion euro debt, Reuters reported.

But it is widely seen as a highly visible and symbolic move by new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Popular fury at the luxuries enjoyed by the political elite at a time of economic hardship helped the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to sweep a quarter of votes in its first national election a year ago.

But Mr Renzi, who took power in last month's party coup, has sought to transform the public mood with promises of tax cuts, ambitious reforms and a less ostentatious style.

He drove to a meeting with his predecessor Mr Enrico Letta, shortly before he replaced him, at the wheel of a blue Smart car.

In one of his first posts as the Democratic Party secretary, Mr Renzi tweeted: "Why should an undersecretary have an official car? The undersecretary should go by foot."

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that about 1,500 non-essential cars will eventually be sold off.

So far online bidding has been concentrated on a grey Alfa Romeo 166, with a current top offer of 8,621 euros. A BMW 525d, with camel-coloured leather seats, is going for 15,050 euros after 75 bids.

Bidding has yet to open on two Jaguars, among the most exclusive models on offer. They were previously used by the justice ministry, which had a fleet of more than 830 chauffeured cars at the end of last year.

Nine Maseratis and another eight BMWs belonging to the defence ministry, are also up for sale, The Independent reported.

In 2011, Mr Ignazio La Russa, then defence minister in the final Berlusconi government, attempted to justify the purchase of 19 of the Maserati saloons, each costing 117,000 euros, excluding the cost of armour-plating. The cars can go to 270kmh. When Mr La Russa was asked why he was spending €2.5 million euros on cars, while slashing defence spending, he replied that at least the vehicles were Italian.

High-end vehicles are a common status symbol for government officials, and are regularly seen speeding down streets with little regard for stop lights and most traffic rules.