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Italian prime minister challenged from own party

AP

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta faces a new challenge to his leadership Thursday as his own party decides whether to yank support from the fragile cross-party government of bitter rivals.

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, who was voted leader of the Democratic Party in December, has sharpened his criticism of Letta in recent weeks, challenging what he sees as the government’s failure to make progress on key reforms.

Despite the power play, Renzi, a rising political star, has asserted that he wants to take office through elections, not through political maneuvers.

Letta made a public pitch to hold onto power Wednesday, highlighting signs of economic relief since he took power 10 months ago. He said the economy is showing signs of growth after years of contraction and that the country’s stubbornly high public debt has begun to decline for the first time in six years.

Letta, 47, was tapped to run a government of long-time political foes after elections last year failed to produce a clear winner. He has already survived a challenge by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who backed down from a vote of no-confidence at the last minute last fall.

Berlusconi’s party, however, did move to the opposition after the Senate took his seat over a tax fraud conviction. Letta’s government was able to continue with the support of center-right defectors.

If Letta’s party yanks its support, Renzi could be tapped by President Giorgio Napolitano to try to form a new government. But any new coalition would need to win a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Should Letta hold onto power, a significant Cabinet reshuffling is expected.

“I have lived every day like it’s my last because there were so many who have been trying to kick me out,” Letta said.