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article imageItaly's Renzi triggers party leadership contest

By AFP     Feb 19, 2017 in Politics

Italy's ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on Sunday, kicking off a leadership battle as the country's ruling party grapples with the threat of a schism.

Renzi, who stepped down in January after losing a key referendum, said he would run to win back his post as party secretary, which would put him in pole position to become prime minister once more should the PD win approaching national elections.

The showdown with his many enemies looked set to be fierce; rebels on the far-left have been threatening to split off, with a potential fallout for the government and PD Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Renzi pointed the finger squarely at the rebels, accusing them of having attacked him at every turn during his premiership and of trying to blackmail him into quitting as party head as the only way to prevent the threatened split.

"Schism is one of the worst words, only one is worse and that's the word blackmail. It is unacceptable for a party to be blocked by the diktat of the minority wing," he said.

"You have the right to defeat us, not eliminate us. That's the heart of a democracy," he added.

The congress to elect the new PD party secretary will be held in June.

Renzi had been calling for an early general election, but all thoughts of going to the national polls have now been put on hold.

Gentiloni's government hopes to carry on until the natural end of the legislature early next year.

The 42-year old called for the party to "move forwards united," saying he and the others in the majority asked "with our hearts in our hands" for the rebels to stay.

But former PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who still has core support among traditional PD party voters, dismissed his appeal.

"We are at very delicate point. There are those who think we are heading for a crash which will hit not just the PD but Italy," he said.

"We are not saying we are determined to send Renzi packing, we are saying we want to be able to discuss an urgent change of direction," he added.

Bersani blamed Renzi for "putting up a wall" and feared the run-up to the congress the minority's concerns would "not be open to discussion".

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