MILAN, Aug 12 (Reuters) - A group of small shareholders at some of Italy's cooperative, or "Popolari", banks plan to challenge in court an attempt by the government to reform the sector, a shareholder association said on Wednesday.
"Our association has decided to take part in an urgent legal appeal," the president of the Associazione Azionisti at small cooperative lender Veneto Banca said in a statement.
Italy's government, keen to encourage mergers among the Popolari to help strengthen them, has introduced rules to turn the largest cooperative banks into joint-stock companies.
The new rules, overhauling governance and abolishing limits to ownership and voting rights, apply to lenders with assets of more than eight billion euros.
In June the Bank of Italy published rules required to implement the landmark reform which gives banks 18 months to convert into joint-stock companies.
The president of the Veneto Banca small shareholders, Giovanni Schiavon, said they would be joining other associations to contest Bank of Italy rules in an Italian court and seek to block them with immediate effect.
He said the reform would have serious repercussions for small investors in the sector and for the future of Veneto Banca. (Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Gareth Jones)