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Italy sells Jaguars, Maseratis on eBay to cut costs

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government is selling off scores of official cars including Jaguars and Maseratis, on online auction site eBay, as it strives to show 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 ($1.37 billion) a year to run.

The auction is unlikely to make a dent in Italy's 2 trillion euro debt. 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 sweep up a quarter of votes in its first national election a year ago.

But Renzi, who took power in a February 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 Enrico Letta, shortly before he replaced him, at the wheel of a blue Smart car.

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-colored 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 are also on offer at the auction, which began two days ago and runs until mid-April.

Italian media reported they were the cars that became the subject of heated debate when they were ordered by the Defense Ministry shortly before the government of Silvio Berlusconi collapsed at the peak of the euro zone debt crisis.

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.

But Renzi is not the only high profile figure to have started shunning such public displays. Pope Francis has swapped the papal Mercedes limousine for a Ford Focus.

($1 = 0.7278 Euros)

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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