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Letta quits as Italian premier, Renzi set to take helm

Napolitano to hold talks with parties on new govt Fri, Sat

14 February, 20:25
Letta quits as Italian premier, Renzi set to take helm

(By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 14 - Enrico Letta quit as Italian premier Friday after 10 months at the helm of a weak, bickering left-right coalition government. Before tendering his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, he thanked those who had "helped him" amid constant sniping where "every day seemed my last". Napolitano is expected to give a government-formation mandate to the leader of Letta's Democratic Party (PD), Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, who at 39 could become Italy's youngest premier.

Renzi effectively pulled the plug on Letta's executive when he requested the PD withdraw support at a party meeting Thursday so he could take the helm of a new one that would drag Italy out of the "quagmire".

He had been haranguing the government since he won a PD leadership primary in December.

Renzi complained over its lack of progress on passing a new electoral law, on institutional reforms to make Italy easier to govern and reduce the costs of the country's political apparatus and on measures to revive the economy, which is slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession.

Ironically, national statistics agency Istat released data Friday showing that Italy returned to positive growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 for the first time in over two years, albeit a modest rise of 0.1% of gross domestic product.

Napolitano started a round of consultations on the formation of a new government Friday with meetings with Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso and Lower House Speaker Laura Boldrini. The head of State said in a statement that Letta's resignation was irrevocable and therefore there would be no confidence vote in parliament to formalise the collapse of the government.

The main opposition parties, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI) and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, had said parliament should sink the government, not the PD, Italy's biggest party. Napolitano said he was holding the consultations "in the shortest time possible" given the "delicate economic period" and the need for a new election law and other reforms. The consultations will conclude on Saturday, when the president will meet the leaders of the main parties, although the PD delegation will feature its parliamentary whips and Renzi will not take part.

Berlusconi will be in the FI delegation despite controversy about his role, after he was ejected from parliament in November following a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

"This is one of the best moments in my life," Renzi, who has been compared to a young Tony Blair, told reporters at a Florence ceremony with couples marking 50 years of marriage earlier on Friday.

Renzi has said he wants the next government to last until the end of the parliamentary term in 2018, giving it time to enact a sweeping agenda to change a discredited and dysfunctional political system and deliver growth to lower record unemployment.

He will probably be working with the same coalition that supported Letta, featuring the PD, plus several small centrist groups and Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano's New Centre Right (NCD).

The NCD is made up of centre-right moderates who opted to keep supporting Letta's government and keep it alive when Berlusconi pulled his support just before being ejected in parliament.

The M5S, which captured about a quarter of the vote at last year's inconclusive general elections, is not taking part in the consultations with Napolitano, saying they are a joke and that it sees a Renzi administration as no different from Letta's. The regionalist, anti-immigrant Northern League is also boycotting the talks.

Renzi looks set to be Italy's third straight non-elected premier, after deals between parties led to the creation of Letta's administration last year and the emergency technocrat government of Mario Monti in 2011.

The power play that scuppered Letta has exposed Renzi to accusations of hypocrisy after his repeated insistence on wishing to become premier through the electoral process, and not through the sort of back-room deals that typified Italy's revolving-door politics through much of the postwar era.