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Published: Tuesday March 4, 2014 MYT 5:20:03 PM
Updated: Tuesday March 4, 2014 MYT 5:21:09 PM

Italy PM Renzi loses government member over censorship claims

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestures as he talks during a pre-election congress of the Party of European Socialist (PES) in Rome March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestures as he talks during a pre-election congress of the Party of European Socialist (PES) in Rome March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost the first member of his government after an undersecretary resigned following allegations he had pressured a local newspaper not to publish a damaging story about his son.

In itself, the resignation of one undersecretary is unlikely to have any impact on Renzi's ability to govern but it underlined the complex challenges facing his broad coalition as he prepares to launch potentially painful economic reforms.

Antonio Gentile, undersecretary for infrastructure from the small centre-right party in Renzi's coalition, announced his resignation in the face of mounting pressure from the media and centre-left partners.

A powerful local party boss from the southern region of Calabria, Gentile was under no formal investigation and consistently denied any wrongdoing. In an open letter announcing his resignation, he said he was stepping down only "as a demonstration of the correctness of my behaviour."

Gentile was accused of pressuring the local newspaper "L'Ora della Calabria" not to publish an article that implicated his son, a manager in the local health authority, in a scandal over consultancy payments.

The editor of the newspaper refused the request but the publication never appeared on newsstands because the daily's press suffered a technical problem the night the edition was being printed.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement said before Gentile resigned that it would file a no-confidence motion in parliament against him and several members of Renzi's own Democratic Party, including 150 local politicians from Calabria, also said he should step down.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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