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M5S unruffled by defections, says movement's 'guru'

Casaleggio resolute in face of dissidents

13 March, 20:06
M5S unruffled by defections, says movement's 'guru' (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, March 13 - Beppe Grillo's right-hand man and 5-Star Movement co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio said Thursday that the leadership was unruffled by a recent string of 'dissident' Senators defecting from their anti-establishment party. "It doesn't interest us at all. They can do what they want.

It's their choice. We'd be in trouble if public opinion turned against us, not if a new group were formed," Casaleggio told ANSA in an exclusive interview. Last month Grillo expelled four Senators from his Internet-based movement for criticizing his handling of government formation talks with Premier Matteo Renzi. Luis Alberto Orellana, Francesco Campanella, Fabrizio Bocchino and Lorenzo Battista publicly questioned why Grillo, a comedian-turned-politician, used the talks to yell insults rather than take advantage of the opportunity to negotiate. Following their expulsion, five more Senators tendered their resignations as parliamentarians in solidarity. Grillo followed by ejecting them from the party, raising the total number of defections, forced or otherwise, to nine. The fallout has created chaos within the ranks, threats of more resignations and calls for a separate parliamentary group. M5S Senator Roberto Cotti, who had objected to the earlier explusions, said this could include as many as 30 former M5S members. Meanwhile, Casaleggio used the interview with ANSA to deny he was a Freemason, reports of which were circulated in an article published last March in Panorama, the flagship newsmagazine of media magnate, three-time premier, and political rival Silvio Berlusconi. "I've never been a member of the Freemasons, neither do I wish to be," said Casaleggio.

"I'm against any form of power outside the State, and in favor of utmost transparency for State officials. "There can be no other power. "Anyone who has proof (that I'm a Freemason), show it," said Casaleggio.

He also eschewed being nicknamed "the guru", as he is seen as the political mastermind working from behind the scenes, while Grillo is the provocative face of the party. Grillo, a millionaire comedian from Genoa, lived up to his own reputation Thursday by once again likening Premier Matteo Renzi to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

On his blog, the fulcrum of his Internet-based movement, Grillo posted a picture of a helmeted Duce next to renderings of a helmeted Renzi and Berlusconi. While Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party is in the opposition, the pair have been allies on an election reform, which they began working on even before Renzi came into office last month. Grillo, who has likened both politicians to Mussolini in the past, posted that Italy was in for "a new 20-year reign," referring to when Mussolini came to power in 1922 and his downfall in 1943.