Rome

Renzi under fire as centre-left infighting escalates

Finocchiaro says Florence mayor will never be statesman

Renzi under fire as centre-left infighting escalates

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 15 - Infighting in Italy's centre left escalated on Monday after the man widely seen as its future head, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, came under fire after a series of controversial statements blasting the current leadership. The 38-year-old, who has been compared to a young Tony Blair, has openly criticised the chief of his Democratic Party (PD), Pier Luigi Bersani, over the handling of the impasse caused by February's inconclusive general election. Bersani defeated Renzi in the centre-left leadership primaries in December. But Bersani conducted a colourless campaign and, although his alliance came first in the vote by a narrow margin, it failed to win a working majority in the Senate. Italy still has no government as Bersani did not garner support for a post-election pact with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and ruled out forming a grand coalition with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano has tried to break the deadlock by asking a group of 10 'wise men' to prepare a government programme capable of winning cross-party support that was presented on Friday Renzi has said Bersani's approach 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. Bersani hit back at the weekend, saying he would not accept such insults even from his father, prompting Renzi to respond that he was "asking for the insults". The Florence mayor also angered members of his own party by rejecting the possibility that two of its high-profile members could become the next Italian president. He ruled out former Senate speaker Franco Marini on the grounds that he failed to win re-election to parliament in February. He also gave the thumbs down to PD Senator Anna Finocchiaro, a former equal opportunities minister, after she was recently photographed getting her bodyguards to carry her shopping for her on a trip to Ikea. "I find the attack Matteo Renzi directed at me to be truly pitiful, both for the tone and the content," Finocchiaro said Monday, stressing that she had not touted herself as a presidential candidate. "And I find it unacceptable and despicable that it should come from a member of my own party. "My opinion is that someone who behaves like this might win elections, but he does not have the human qualities that are indispensable to be a real political leader and statesman". The bitterness within the PD has reached such levels that there have been talks of a split. Bersani has said there is no danger of this and Renzi has said he will not leave the PD even if fellow party members try to kick him out. Another senior PD member, former education minister Beppe Fioroni, pleaded with Renzi to stop his attacks on the party's top brass. "In this way Matteo Renzi keeps putting the PD constantly in tension," Fioroni told Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "I invite him to stop because we're close to breaking point. "If we get there, there won't be a split, but an implosion. It won't be just the party that suffers, but the whole country". Renzi does have his backers within the party though, who say he is simply saying things as they are. "I don't think that you get very far with the politics of insulting," said PD MP Simona Bonafe' referring to Finocchiaro's comments. "If saying things to someone's face and saying them clearly produces these results, maybe the Democratic Party should have a good hard look at itself. We'll keep going with our line of saying things to people's faces". Renzi may have alienated many within his party, but his popularity outside of it is high. A poll last week said his approval rate was now twice that of the three much older leaders who emerged in a virtual tie from February's election. He clocked a rating of 56% compared to 27% for all three of the leaders who have failed to agree on a government 49 days after the vote: the 61-year-old Bersani, 76-year-old centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, the close runner-up, and 64-year-old anti-establishment comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo.

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