Rome protests
A protester in Rome passes beneath a poster of Germany's Angela Merkel

Thousands of Italians have protested in Rome, chanting "we can't wait anymore" and "we need money to live", as pressure mounted on incoming prime minister Enrico Lette to abandon the austerity drive favoured by his predecessor, Mario Monti.

Callling for an end to budget cuts, and measures to alleviate unemployment, protesters urged Letta to make job-creation his priority in getting the economy moving.

After assuming power less than an month ago, Letta is struggling to hold together an uneasy coalition between his centre-left Democratic party and the centre-right People of Freedom, led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Confidence in the government is already falling, with one poll by the SWG institute putting its approval rating at 34%, down from 43% at the start of the month.

"We hope that this government will finally start listening to us because we are losing our patience," said Enzo Bernardis, who joined the demonstration to call for more workers' rights and better contracts.

Letta promised to make jobs his top priority when he came to power in April after two months of political deadlock.

But opponents complain he has not stuck to his vow, allowing himself to become distracted by property tax reforms outlined this week.

Union leaders say he needs to shift away from the austerity agenda pursued by his predecessor Monti, who brought in spending cuts, tax hikes and pension reform to placate Eurozone finance ministers and central bankers.

"We need to start over with more investment. If we don't restart with public and private investments, there will no new jobs," said Maurizio Landini, secretary-general of the left-wing metalworkers union Fiom.

Italy is in the throes of its longest recession since quarterly records began in 1970, with the number of jobless at a record high, and youth unemployment at 38%.