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Italy's Renzi poised for PM post after Letta quits

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano began meeting political leaders after Prime Minister Enrico Letta's resignation, with leftist leader Matteo Renzi virtually certain to win the nomination to succeed him.

ROME: Italian President Giorgio Napolitano began meeting political leaders on Friday after Prime Minister Enrico Letta's resignation, with leftist leader Matteo Renzi virtually certain to win the nomination to succeed him.

Napolitano was due to continue his consultations with political parties on Saturday before likely giving the mandate to the 39-year-old Renzi, a former Boy Scout with no experience in national government or parliament.

Renzi would then have to hold his own talks to rebuild the ruling coalition - with analysts predicting his government could be in place by the middle of next week.

Financial markets cheered as Letta earlier on Friday stepped down after just 10 tumultuous months at the head of a fragile coalition with the centre-right that had struggled to cope with a rampant economic crisis.

Letta was forced out after his own Democratic Party on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a request by its leader Renzi urging a new government that could implement "profound change" and get Italy "out of the quagmire".

The presidency said in a statement announcing Letta's resignation that Napolitano would move "quickly" to resolve the crisis and name a new government that can adopt much-needed economic and political reforms.

The outgoing premier smiled as he arrived at the presidential palace and thanked his supporters in a tweet after losing out in the showdown with Renzi.

"Thank you to everyone who helped," he said in a tweet.

The "relay" between Letta and Renzi is unpopular among Italians who would have preferred early elections, according to opinion polls, and there is concern in the party that it could end up strengthening disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"What is happening is not something that should be happening in a democracy," the 77-year-old billionaire tycoon and three-time former prime minister said at a rally ahead of local elections in Sardinia.

"I am the last prime minister who was elected by the people," said Berlusconi, who will lead his Forza Italia (Go Italy) party's delegation in negotiations with Napolitano on Saturday despite having been expelled from parliament last year over a tax fraud conviction.

But at a small protest of business owners outside the parliament building in Rome, the call was for urgent economic reforms whoever might be in charge.

"It doesn't matter who is at the wheel," said Paola Malabaila, head of the Industrial Union in the province of Asti in northwest Italy.

"Our problem is that there are measures that need to be implemented immediately. We need definite deadlines, we've had enough," she said, explaining redundancies had increased 465 per cent in her sector in seven years.

Analysts said Renzi will have to overcome the shock caused by him engineering Letta's overthrow despite an earlier gentleman's agreement that he would not do so.

But they also said he could quickly win support if he manages to push through important reforms, and investors were supportive with stocks rising sharply.

"The reform process will probably get a boost," Italy's UniCredit bank said in a research note, adding however that "the road ahead is not without bumps".

The FTSE Mib index on Friday ended the day up 1.62 per cent, also thanks to new data showing that the economy grew by 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter.

The preliminary result was the first positive one for gross domestic product in two years after Italy's longest post-war recession ended in the third quarter.

Renzi still faces a tricky time rebuilding the coalition before he can finally clinch his goal of becoming the European Union's youngest prime minister and Italy's youngest ever government leader.

The government will be Italy's 62nd since the war.

"He is coming to power without elections, which will make it difficult to push through strong government initiatives," said Giovanni Orsina, a professor of political sciences at Luiss University in Rome.

"Renzi is ambitious, aggressive," Orsina said. "But his government will be objectively stronger - if only because he will be in it instead of outside it."

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