By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Premier Enrico Letta drove himself to the Italian president's palace to resign Friday after he was sacked by his own party in a back-room mutiny meant to catapult the dynamic young mayor of Florence to the helm of the Italian government.
In a tweet Friday, Letta said he was resigning and thanked "all those who have helped me."
It was a contrite good-bye after 10 months of leadership of a fragile, bipartisan government formed after inconclusive February 2013 elections yielded no clear winner with a big enough majority to govern.
President Giorgio Napolitano is widely expected to accept Letta's resignation and, after a weekend of consultations with political leaders, ask the head of Letta's Democratic Party, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, to try to form a government.
But some opposition leaders, balking at the internal power play displayed by Renzi, asked Napolitano to have Parliament take up the matter so Renzi's Democrats are forced to explain in public why they ousted their own leader.
The 39-year-old Renzi rallied his party's executives Thursday to back him in an internal vote of no-confidence against Letta, accusing him of failing to lift Italy out of its economic and political doldrums.
The timing of the ouster was ironic given that national statistics bureau Istat reported Friday that fourth-quarter GDP edged up 0.1 percent, the first positive growth since mid-2011.
Renzi's maneuver was stunning even by Italian political standards, since he had long insisted that he would only gun for the premiership via an election and the popular mandate that would give him. But analysts said he clearly saw an opportunity and seized it, even though the risks of it failing are high.
"Enrico Letta was not a bad prime minister, but he was not seen as getting things done," said James Walston, professor of politics at the American University of Rome. "Renzi promises to get things done. He promises to make the Democratic Party win, and that is his biggest quality at the moment."
It remains to be seen how Italy's shifting political alliances will line up for the required vote of confidence in Parliament once Renzi gets the nod from Napolitano, forms a government and outlines his agenda to kickstart the economy, create jobs and enact the electoral reforms needed to make Italy more governable.
Already, the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement of comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo decided to boycott Napolitano's consultations, signaling that Renzi's power play hadn't done anything to improve relations with the populist party whose mantra is to send Italy's politicians packing.
Renzi spent his day basking in victory and opening up Florence's Palazzo Vecchio city hall to hundreds of married couples celebrating Valentine's Day. He is seen as a popular, down-to-earth mayor who has resonated with Italians fed up with Italy's self-absorbed political class.
Tricia Thomas contributed.
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