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Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addresses a news conference during an European Union leaders summit in Brussels June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir


ROME (Reuters) - The Italian Senate on Friday approved a first reading of a highly contested constitutional reform, drawing a line under a draining parliamentary battle which had absorbed government attention while pressure grew for faster action on the economic crisis.

The bill, aimed at transforming the upper house into an unelected body and drastically reducing its legislative powers will now pass to the Chamber or Deputies. It will require many more months and perhaps a popular referendum to become law.

Renzi says the reform is necessary to speed up Italy's cumbersome legislative process and had pushed to have the first passage approved before the summer parlimentary recess.

The Senate approved the package by 183 votes in favour and none against, with the numerous senators who oppose the reform opting not to take part in the vote.

(Reporting By Gavin Jones)