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ROME (Reuters) - The Italian branch of Catholic charity Caritas has seen a 44.5 percent jump in the number of people seeking food, clothing and medicines from its centers in the first half of the year, it said on Wednesday.

It said the economic crisis was increasingly affecting Italians as well as the immigrant poor, with the number of Italian nationals coming to its advice centers rising by 15 percent in the first six months of the year.

Italy's economy has been in recession since the middle of last year, weighed down by austerity measures introduced by Prime Minister Mario Monti's government to control the country's huge public debt.

"The crisis is having a strong impact on the longstanding poor as well as creating new poverty," said Francesco Soddu, director of the charity, adding that elderly people were one group increasingly affected.

The Catholic Church, which still has strong influence in Italy despite a steady erosion in regular attendance numbers in recent years, has been stepping in to support Italian families overwhelmed by the economic crisis.

Caritas said activities of its professional training services had more than doubled in the first six months of the year and the involvement of other organizations in its support work had almost tripled in the period.

(Reporting By Catherine Hornby, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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