ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti declared a state of emergency and promised more help on Tuesday for northern regions hit by an earthquake, saying it was vital to restore some of the most economically productive parts of the country.
He said the government would suspend property taxes on damaged factories and residences in the region around the towns of Modena, Ferrara, Mantova and Bologna and encourage banks to step up lending to companies hit by the emergency.
The state of emergency, lasting 60 days, will put the Civil Protection authorities in charge of coordinating the clean-up effort and will boost emergency funding for the region by 50 million euros.
"We have to re-activate the industrial network which is so characteristic of this part of Italy and which is so important for the whole country," Monti said on a visit to the region.
At least seven people died and thousands were forced to flee their homes when the force 6.0 earthquake struck in the early hours of Sunday, destroying houses, factories and historic buildings.
Monti's government is increasingly unpopular because of austerity measures passed to combat a deep economic crisis and the prime minister was greeted by a small group of protesters as he toured one of the quake-hit areas.
Television pictures showed people calling out "Shame! Robbers!" as Monti arrived in Sant'Agostino, one of the towns most badly hit.
A series of smaller aftershocks has continued since the original quake and some 5,000 people are still sheltering in tents and other makeshift accommodation while inspections continue on damaged housing.
Conditions have been made more difficult by rain and unseasonally cold weather in northern Italy.
"I wanted to bring a sense of the government's concern and the involvement of all its services to these families and people who have been hit so hard," Monti said.
Sunday's earthquake was Italy's worst since the 6.3 magnitude shock which hit the town of L'Aquila in April 2009, killing nearly 300 people.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)