August 20, 2019 / 10:34 PM / a month ago

Italy president begins talks to seek way out of government crisis

ROME, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Italian President Sergio Mattarella begins two days of talks with parties on Wednesday to seek a way out of a political crisis that will lead to formation of the country’s 67th government since World War Two or early elections.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday after launching a blistering attack on his own interior minister, Matteo Salvini, accusing him of sinking the coalition and endangering the economy for personal and political gain.

In a shock move on Aug. 8, Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, declared that his alliance with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement was dead and called for elections.

Salvini had repeatedly promised the 14-month old government would last a full five-year term and appeared confident his move would trigger early elections, allowing him to cash in on the League’s surging popularity.

But the gambit could backfire and open the door to power for his rivals.

Politicians from 5-Star and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) are openly discussing forming a new coalition that would push the League into opposition and give Italy a more centrist, pro-European government.

“The interior minister has shown he is following his own interests and those of his party ... his decisions pose serious risks for this country,” Conte, who does not belong to either ruling party, told the Senate on Tuesday before heading to the president’s palace to resign.

Financial markets rallied on Conte’s resignation, seemingly hopeful that a 5-Star/PD coalition can be ushered in and snap polls avoided.

Mattarella will meet with all the parties in parliament, one after the other, to see if a new coalition can be formed. Failing that, he would have to dissolve parliament, 3-1/2 years ahead of schedule, to allow for autumn elections.

He will begin with minor groups at 1400 GMT but will not hear the main parties until Thursday, concluding with 5-Star at 1500 GMT.

The PD’s leadership is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday, at 0900 GMT, to discuss the prospect of hooking up with 5-Star. The two parties have been bitter political foes for years.

Salvini said on Tuesday he would repeat to the president that he wants new elections following the March 2018 vote that led to the 5-Star/League government.

He accused the other parties of trying to cobble together a deal because they were afraid to return to the polls, but Conte said fresh political uncertainty was the last thing Italy needed as it prepares a difficult 2020 budget in the autumn.

“Getting citizens to vote is the essence of democracy. Urging them to vote every year is irresponsible,” the outgoing premier said. (Reporting by Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones; Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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