Rome:  Against the backdrop of anti-austerity protesters clashing with riot police, Italy's new premier appealed to Italians to accept sacrifices to save their country from bankruptcy, but pledged economic growth and greater social cohesion in return.

Mario Monti is under enormous pressure to boost growth and bring down Italy's high debt, not only to save Italy from succumbing to the debt crisis but to prevent a catastrophic disintegration of the common euro currency.

"Europe is experiencing the most difficult days since the end of the Second World War," Monti told parliament on Thursday in his debut address.

"Let's not fool ourselves, honoured senators that the European project can survive if the monetary union fails."

Monti pledged to reform the pension system, re-impose a tax on first homes annulled by Silvio Berlusconi's government, fight tax evasion, cut the costs of politics, streamline civil court proceedings and get more women and youth into the work force.

"This government recognises that it was born to confront a serious emergency in a constructive and united spirit,"

Monti said, calling it "a government of national commitment." The 68-year-old economist and university president described three pillars of his strategy: Budgetary rigor, economic growth and social fairness.

He was interrupted 17 times by applause. But outside, Rome's historic center was paralyzed by student protests and in the financial capital of Milan, riot police struggled to stop protesters trying to reach the Bocconi University over which he presides, signalling the depth of the resistance the new leader will have to confront.

Monti's one-day-old government won vote of confidence 281-25 in the Senate later yesterday, ahead of a vote in the lower house today, on his government of experts, including fellow professors, bankers and business executives.

He was chosen to lead after Italy's spiralling financial crisis brought down media mogul Berlusconi's 3 1/2 year-old government.