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Tuesday, 7 January 2014 | MYT 9:55 PM

Italian ex-junior minister says Renzi undermines government

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's former deputy economy minister Stefano Fassina accused new centre-left leader Matteo Renzi on Tuesday of undermining the government, highlighting continuing tensions in the ruling coalition after Fassina quit in a dispute over the cabinet.

Fassina, a prominent leftwinger in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and a critic of PD leader Renzi, resigned on Saturday, saying that the cabinet had to be reshuffled to reflect Renzi's sweeping victory in last month's party primary.

He said Renzi, who has insisted his PD colleague Prime Minister Enrico Letta must move more quickly on reforms or accept new elections, had to be directly implicated in the successes and failures of the coalition, of which the PD is the largest member.

"There's a problem with the Democratic Party leadership's ambiguity towards the Letta government. It has to be cleared up once and for all," he told Radio24 in an interview.

Tensions in the ruling coalition could complicate the task facing Letta as he works on the details of a new coalition reform pact to be presented in the next few weeks.

Fassina said Renzi's repeated criticisms of the government for not moving quickly enough were reminiscent of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi's attacks on former Prime Minister Mario Monti in the months leading up to last year's election.

"A party secretary elected with such a big majority can ask for a change in the government's approach, that's normal. But a daily round of challenges to the government's legitimacy is another thing entirely. It makes you think of Berlusconi in the final months of the Monti government," he said.

The resignation of Fassina, who represents a significant slice of opinion in the PD, and his subsequent criticisms of Renzi have laid bare the factional tensions predicted after the 38-year-old mayor of Florence won the centre-left leadership in December, pledging to shake up the party.

As well as the PD, Letta must also negotiate with the small centrist and centre-right groups which support his coalition and which have watched the arrival of Renzi with some suspicion.

Although Renzi is not in the government, he has promised an overhaul of the widely criticised electoral system and a new "Jobs Act" expected to focus on a more flexible form of contract for younger workers with fewer hiring and firing restrictions but more support for the unemployed.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Alister Doyle)


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