Conte asked to seek new Italy gov’t aimed at foiling Salvini

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ROME (AP) – Ex-premier Giuseppe Conte on Thursday accepted a fresh mandate to try and cobble together a new government backed by the populist 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democrats, aimed at blocking right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini’s power grab.

Conte said after meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella that he would meet with the parties immediately in a bid to establish political stability as quickly as possible after the crisis triggered by Salvini’s power play that collapsed the 14-month-old populist government.

“This is a very delicate phase for the country,” said Conte, who was forced to resign Aug. 20 after Salvini yanked support for his government. “We need to exit political uncertainty as quickly as possible.”

Salvini’s move created political instability that once again focused investor attention on Italy, raising borrowing costs on its stubbornly high debt. Italy also faces a critical fall deadline for drafting a budget for the European Union, with the looming prospect of raising the value-added tax to cover shortfalls.

The populist 5-Star Movement and Democrats have banded together in an unlikely alliance together to thwart Salvini’s bungled attempt to grab power when he unexpectedly withdrew support for the foundering League-5-Star government to seek early elections.

The new alliance appears to forestall elections – for now. But even if Conte manages to cobble together a government, wins the support of President Sergio Mattarella and a vote of confidence in parliament, political analysts warn it is unlikely to last.

The Democratic Party refused to even consider talks with the 5-Stars after the inconclusive March 2018 national elections eventually led to the coalition with the League, and the two parties have long traded barbed insults.

Salvini was emboldened to pull the plug on the government by his strong showing in this spring’s European elections, local votes and political surveys that showed that the League had nearly doubled its support since the 2018 elections, while that of the 5-Stars had essentially fallen by half.

But Salvini, whose popularity soared with on his anti-migrant policies, didn’t count on the former political foes closing ranks to block his bid for power.

Conte, 55, is seen as an ally of the 5-Stars, even though the law professor had no party affiliation when he became premier in June 2018. He kept a relatively low profile during the 14-month 5-Star-League government, but, before handing in his resignation to Mattarella, he lashed out at Salvini for forcing his government to collapse.

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Barry reported from Milan.

FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 file photo, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, right, is flanked by Deputy-Premier Matteo Salvini as he addresses the Senate in Rome. Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement has asked, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, the nation’s president to give caretaker Premier Giuseppe Conte the mandate to form a new coalition government, a week after the one he led for 14 months collapsed. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
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