ROME Italy's parliament on Tuesday rejected a bid by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to impeach President Giorgio Napolitano, but opposition lawmakers kept up their attacks on the 88-year-old head of state.
Napolitano, widely credited with steering Italy through the turbulence of the euro zone crisis, has faced growing criticism from both the 5-Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party.
Both accuse him of exceeding his constitutional powers to engineer the appointment of Mario Monti's technocrat government at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011, saying he acted with the connivance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Forza Italia deputies abstained in Tuesday's vote in a parliamentary committee which rejected the 5-Star Movement's impeachment request.
Forza Italia has been particularly outraged by reports this week that Napolitano was in touch with Monti months before the fall of Berlusconi's government in November 2011 just as the debt crisis threatened to slip entirely out of control.
It says the reports, based on a forthcoming book on the crisis, show that Napolitano, a former communist, plotted to remove Berlusconi, who resigned after a split in his party left him without a majority in parliament.
"We want the truth. We've had enough of this story put together by the so-called winners, this story put together by Angela Merkel's Germany and this German-led Europe," Forza Italia's floor leader in the lower house Renato Brunetta told Canale 5 television.
Forza Italia, tapping into popular anger over German-backed economic austerity, has sharpened its anti-German rhetoric in the run-up to European Parliament elections in May.
The 5-Star Movement said it would now seek support for a popular petition to bring to the floor of parliament an impeachment motion against Napolitano.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta has branded the attacks on Napolitano as a "shameful attempt to distort reality".
But the controversy over the president's role has further exacerbated an already tangled situation facing Letta's fragile coalition as it grapples with long-delayed economic and political reforms.
Under the Italian constitution, the president has a broad mix of powers, including responsibility for appointing prime ministers, which become particularly important during periods of political instability.
Napolitano, who despite his advanced age is now serving an unprecedented second seven-year term, enjoys strong support outside Italy. Both Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama have praised him at various times as a guarantor of stability.
(Reporting by Roberto Landucci; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones)