ROME Rome's urban planning chief quit the cabinet of the beleaguered city mayor on Tuesday, accusing the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which runs the Italian capital, of ignoring the plight of the suburbs.
The resignation of Paolo Berdini is another blow to the image of 5-Star, which had hoped to use its victory last year in Rome municipal elections as a springboard to winning power on the national level in an approaching parliamentary ballot.
Virginia Raggi, a 38-year-old lawyer with limited political experience, has struggled to impose her authority on the sprawling city administration. Berdini was the ninth member of her team to quit or be sacked in just seven months.
His position became precarious last week when a newspaper quoted him denouncing Raggi as "unfit" to lead the city and surrounded by a "gang of killers".
He initially tried to deny the comments, but when La Stampa daily released audio of the interview he apologized and tendered his resignation. Raggi rejected his offer, but on Tuesday Berdini announced he was quitting regardless.
His decision came after other members of Raggi's cabinet appeared to endorse plans by AS Roma soccer club to build a new stadium and business park on the southern fringes of the city.
Berdini had opposed the initial project and called on the Serie A soccer team to scale it back dramatically.
"While the suburbs are falling into endless decay ... the only concern seems to be the Roma Stadium," he said in a statement, adding that the 5-Star municipal government had promised to bring transparency to town planning.
An exasperated Raggi accepted his resignation this time around. "That's enough," she told reporters.
Raggi is under investigation for abuse of office and giving false testimony over a contested appointment at city hall. She has denied the allegations, but her woes have damaged 5-Star, which has put honesty and legality at the heart of its identity.
An opinion poll published this month showed it had lost almost two percentage points since the end of last year but easily remained Italy's leading opposition party, drawing support of around 26.6 percent of voters.
The ruling center-left Democratic Party (PD), which is riven by internal divisions, continued to be the country's top party, with support put at 29.5 percent in the Demos poll.
National elections are not due until early 2018, but both the 5-Star and PD leader Matteo Renzi are pushing for the ballot to be brought forward to this year.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)