Rome

Bersani denies PD rift, presidential ambitions

Party tries to mend fences with Renzi

Bersani denies PD rift, presidential ambitions

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 11 - Besieged Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Thursday denied a reported rift between his supporters and backers of former primary rival Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence who has campaigned to "scrap" the old guard and rapped Bersani for failing to strike a post-election deal with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. The PD leader, who is still touted as a possible premier despite the centre left just failing to win the general election 40 days ago, also laughed off media reports that he was in the running to become the next Italian president. Bersani said there was "no danger" of the PD splitting because of internal divisions over his handling of the deadlock. Rising star Renzi has publicly criticised Bersani's approach after the centre left came first in February's inconclusive general election but did not win a working majority in the Senate, leading to a hung parliament. Italy still has no government after Bersani failed to win support for a post-election pact with the increasingly popular anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo and ruled out forming a grand coalition with Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has asked a group of 10 'wise men' to try to break the deadlock by preparing a government programme capable of winning cross-party support. Renzi has said this means Italy is "wasting time" that should be used to combat the country's economic ailments and argued the PD should either open talks with Berlusconi or ask to return to the polls. The Florence mayor, who has been compared to a young Tony Blair, also crossed swords with Bersani after not being chosen among the representatives of Italy's regions set to join lawmakers in voting for the next head of state. Although tension is high, Bersani says his party will not break up. "We don't have problems of this type," Bersani told reporters on Thursday when asked about a possible split. Later, Bersani scoffed at talk he was among the touted candidates to replace Napolitano, whose seven-year mandate expires on May 15. "The only hills I have in mind are those in the province of Piacenza," said Bersani in reference to his native Emilia Romagna. The seat of the president of the republic on the Quirinale hill in Rome is commonly referred to simply as 'Il Colle', meaning 'The Hill'. A joint parliamentary session to elect a successor will start on April 18, also including three representatives form each of Italy's 20 regions. Another bone of contention between Bersani and Renzi was the latter's exclusion from the two delegates named by the PD in Tuscany, with the mayor accusing central office of meddling and Bersani flatly denying the claim. Renzi met ex-premier Massimo D'Alema in Florence Thursday in an open attempt to ally party infighting. D'Alema, one of the most criticised members of the PD's old guard, emerged to tell reporters he had "never attacked Renzi, who is an important personality", adding there was "no risk" of a party split. Names for a future president to be touted on left and right include former centre-left premier Romani Prodi, Berlusconi aide Gianni Letta and Radical Party heavyweight Emma Bonino, but no consensus candidates have yet to emerge. Italian media say two figures on the centre left, ex-premier Giuliano Amato and ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marini, are more palatable for the centre right. This because Amato was a long-time economic advisor and highly regarded aide to late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi, a close friend of Berlusconi's who protected his media empire and bestrode the Italian political landscape despite the dominance of the Christian Democrats before becoming the chief culprit in the Bribesville scandals that brought the establishment parties crashing down in the early 1990s. Craxi eventually fled from an arrest warrant to his Tunisian villa and died there in self-imposed exile, despite calls for a pardon, in 2000. Marini is seen as being more acceptable to the centre right because he comes from the Catholic or Christian-Socialist wing of the PD, and is a former Christian Democrat. Some would like to see Napolitano serve a second term in office but the incumbent president has repeatedly ruled out this possibility. Many observers expected the next president to call fresh elections unless the PD and PdL can come to an accommodation over both the president and a government capable of lasting long enough to hopefully enable Grillo's star to wane.

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