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Italy launches talks in fraught quest for new government

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Rome (AFP)

Italy launched talks on Wednesday aiming to break political deadlock between anti-establishment and far-right leaders and form a new government a month after a general election.

Despite agreeing last week on the nomination of the speakers in parliament, the anti-migrant League and the Five Star Movement (M5S) have not budged publicly on their demands to be allowed to govern.

Last month's election yielded a stalemate: a right-wing coalition including the League and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party won 37 percent of the vote. M5S got the biggest share of any single party with just under 33 percent.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio stepped up the rhetoric in the lead-up to President Sergio Mattarella's series of consultations, which began at 0830 GMT at the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome and were scheduled to finish on Thursday afternoon.

Di Maio said on television Tuesday that he would only deal with either the League or the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which leads the outgoing government and suffered a collapse in the election.

He said any deal with Matteo Salvini's League must exclude media magnate Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the second largest party in the right-wing coalition and a fierce rival of the M5S.

"Salvini needs to choose between revolution and the restoration. Whether to leave Berlusconi and change Italy or whether to stay with him and not change anything," said Di Maio.

- Tricky task -

Salvini responded on Facebook that, unlike the M5S, the League "excludes any alliance with a PD rejected by the Italian public".

He reiterated that the right will discuss a partnership with Di Maio "but without being subjected to vetoes or impositions."

In any case, both will have to make their cases to Mattarella.

Mattarella was to meet the Chamber of Deputies and Senate speakers and political leaders for consultations, with the biggest parties pencilled in for Thursday.

After his consultations the president will decide who, if anyone, can command enough seats to form a government or whether a fresh round of consultations is necessary.

Finding a solution this week will be tricky given how far any group is from a majority in either the lower house Chamber or upper house Senate.

The right needs 51 more seats in the 630-seat Chamber and 23 in the Senate -- which holds 318 seats -- in order to form a stable majority. The M5S need to secure the support of 94 more in the lower house and 51 in the upper house.

The PD has refused to work with either the right or M5S despite having enough seats -- 111 in the chamber and 52 in the Senate -- to form a government with either.

- Haggling -

Interim PD leader Maurizio Martina said on Tuesday that his party won't "act as a crutch" for two groups that have such different political ideas from his own party.

PD member of parliament and deputy speaker of the Chamber Ettore Rosato said the two other groups were using the threat of an alliance with the PD to gain an upper hand in their private negotiations.

"There's been a concrete agreement for government between Di Maio and Salvini for months. Now they're just stalling," he said on television on Tuesday.

Little seems likely to change on the PD's part at least until the party votes for a new leader, which Martina has said should happen this month.

If an agreement between the League and the M5S is not struck and the PD sticks to its guns a new government will be extremely hard to form.

If Mattarella were to announce new elections, a new electoral law might be needed to ensure a decisive outcome.

Federico Fornaro, MP for left-wing party Free and Equal and an election expert, told the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily that Italy would remain in political limbo.

"With the current electoral system, going back to the polls would be pointless," he said.

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