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Italian PM resigns

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation Tuesday, blaming his decision to end his 14-month-old populist government on his rebellious and politically ambitious deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

Conte told the Senate that the surprise move earlier this month by Salvini's right-wing League party to seek a no-confidence vote against the coalition was forcing him to "interrupt" what he contended was a productive government. He said that government reflected the results of Italy's 2018 election and aimed to "interpret the desires of citizens who in their vote expressed a desire for change."

The coalition included two rivals, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and Salvini's euroskeptic, anti-migrant right-wing League party.

Conte said he will go later Tuesday to tender his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. As head of state, Mattarella could ask Conte to stay on and find an alternative majority in Parliament. That is considered an unlikely scenario, however, given the long-festering acrimony among the coalition's partners and the deep divisions in the opposition Democrats, who would be a potential partner.

Or, after sounding out party chiefs in consultations expected to start as soon as Wednesday, Mattarella could come to the conclusion that another political leader or a non-partisan figure could cobble together a viable government. That government's pressing task would be to lead the country at least for the next few months, when Italy must make painful budget cuts to keep in line with European Union financial regulations.

Failing that, Mattarella could immediately dissolve Parliament, 3 1/2 years ahead of schedule, as Salvini has been clamouring for. Pulling the plug on Parliament sets the stage for a general election as early as late October, right smack in the middle of delicate budget manoeuvrs that will be closely monitored in Brussels.

Conte, a lawyer with no political experience, is nominally non-partisan, although he was the clear choice of the 5-Stars when the government was formed.

The premier scathingly quoted Salvini's own recent demands for an early election so he could gain "full powers" by grabbing the premiership. Conte blasted Salvini for showing "grave contempt for Parliament" and putting Italy at risk for a "dizzying spiral of political and financial instability" in the months ahead by creating an unnecessary crisis that collapses a working government.

Salvini, who sat next to Conte, smirking at times as the premier spoke, began the Senate debate by saying, defiantly, "I'd do it all again."

Pressing for a new election as soon as possible, Salvini, who as interior minister has led a crackdown on migrants, said: "I don't fear Italians' judgment."

In the European Parliament election three months ago in Italy, as well as in current opinion polls, Salvini's League party has soared in popularity to be the No. 1 political force among Italians.



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