Italian politics again in chaos over power play

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Photo - Florence Mayor and Italian center-left Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi drives away as he is chased by reporters following a meeting with Premier Enrico Letta at Chigi Palace government office, in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Letta battled Wednesday to stay in office amid a power play by supporters of the dynamic head of his party, Renzi, to replace him as premier in the latest chapter to convulse Italy's fragile political stability. Renzi arrived at Letta's office at Palazzo Chigi for a make-or-break meeting ahead of a Democratic Party summit on Thursday that is expected to determine the government's next steps. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Florence Mayor and Italian center-left Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi drives away as he is chased by reporters following a meeting with Premier Enrico Letta at Chigi Palace government office, in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. Letta battled Wednesday to stay in office amid a power play by supporters of the dynamic head of his party, Renzi, to replace him as premier in the latest chapter to convulse Italy's fragile political stability. Renzi arrived at Letta's office at Palazzo Chigi for a make-or-break meeting ahead of a Democratic Party summit on Thursday that is expected to determine the government's next steps. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
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ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Enrico Letta was pitching his increasingly disillusioned allies Wednesday in a last-ditch bid to keep his tenuous coalition government alive.

Letta announced he would lay out his strategy at an early evening news conference aimed at shoring up backing for his leadership of a country impatient with slow progress in ending a stubborn recession. It is seen as a do-or-die moment to convince skeptical coalition partners and some members of his own party that he deserves to stay after only nine months at the helm.

Milan's stock exchange was up Wednesday, but prolonged political turmoil could risk upsetting markets that would like Italy's government to get on with its task of reviving the economy. Letta has made some good progress, with the much-watched "spread" between benchmark German bonds and Italian ones greatly narrowed.

What started out a few weeks ago as grumbling in the coalition for a Cabinet shuffle, has built into a crescendo of calls for him to step down. The announcement comes several hours after he huddled privately with his chief rival for the premier's job, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, pushing speculation that his coalition could unravel.

Renzi took leadership of Letta's Democratic Party in December, rocking the equilibrium in the center-left party already notorious for in-fighting. A shrewd and ambitious rising political star, Renzi has eyed the premiership for a while, but he has so far insisted he wants to get there through general elections, not political maneuvering.

If Letta was compelled to resign, Italy's president would have to ask Renzi to try to form a new government. But any new government would need to win a vote of confidence in Parliament, where inconclusive elections a year ago forced the leading Democrats to rely on rival center-right forces in a cobbled together, rocky coalition.

After his meeting with Letta, Renzi made no public comments, except for a Tweet that said "I read a lot of possibilities about the government. What I have to say, I will say tomorrow" during a meeting of top Democratic leaders.

An appointment of Renzi to the premier's office would risk angering Silvio Berlusconi, the conservative leader who recently made a deal with the mayor to work together on electoral reform designed to make Italy more governable. Should Letta hold on to power, the price is expected to be a significant Cabinet shuffle.

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