May 2, 2019 / 5:29 PM / 4 months ago

In blow to League, Italy's PM urges dismissal of junior minister

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gestures during a joint news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Youssef Chahed, in Tunis, Tunisia, April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday he would propose at the next cabinet meeting the dismissal of a junior minister who has been linked to a graft scandal, in what could be seen as a blow to the coalition partner League.

Armando Siri, a transport ministry undersecretary and economic adviser to League chief Matteo Salvini, was placed under investigation by Italian prosecutors last month for allegedly accepting bribes to promote the interests of renewable energy firms.

Minutes before Conte’s announcement, Siri said he was innocent but added that he was ready to quit the executive if prosecutors did not quickly close his case after having heard him.

“Future resignations make no sense,” Conte told a news conference, dismissing Siri’s attempt to delay the decision. Conte said his call for dismissing Siri was a political decision and had nothing to do with the outcome of the ongoing judicial investigation.

Conte’s move could heighten tensions within the government, whose two coalition partners have shown divisions over many issues ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23-26 in which they will run with different allies.

Far-right leader Salvini wanted Siri to keep his role, while the co-ruling anti-establishment 5-Star Movement sought his resignation.

Later on Thursday, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio told a TV show he hoped that Siri’s dismissal would not lead to the collapse of the government. He said the cabinet decision could be taken on May 8 or 9.

The bickering between the coalition partners has prompted speculation that the government might collapse soon after the EU election.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Angelo Amante; Editing by Frances Kerry

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