Italy plunged into political crisis, government risks collapse

Italy was plunged into political crisis on Jan. 13 after former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his party from the ruling coalition, risking the collapse of the government in the middle of a raging coronavirus pandemic.

Renzi announced the resignation of two cabinet ministers and a junior minister from his Italia Viva party, in a split that deprives Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of his parliamentary majority.

Tensions between the two men have been rising for weeks over the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed more than 80,000 lives in Italy and sent the economy into a deep recession.

They came to a head over plans to spend more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) in European Union recovery funds that Renzi warned risked being wasted.

But critics accused him of simply seeking more power for his party, which is polling at just three percent - and warned that now is not the time to quit the coalition.

"For sure, the country would definitely not understand a crisis... people are asking us to go on, in such a complex, difficult situation," Conte warned earlier.

During a cabinet meeting on Jan. 13 evening, Conte "deplored the significant damage that a government crisis causes our country in the middle of a pandemic".

Health Minister Roberto Speranza added: "It would really be an unforgivable mistake to get distracted or to slow down near the finish line."

Renzi has been complaining for weeks about Conte's leadership, accusing him of a lack of consultation, particularly over the recovery plan, and accusing the government of being "stagnant".

At a news conference in Rome on Wednesday, he rejected calls to keep silent because of the pandemic, saying: "Democracy either always is or it isn't."

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