Renzi to Italy's feuding Democrats: Populists are the enemy

By FRANCES D'EMILIO - Associated Press ,

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Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi arrives at the PD meeting in Rome

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi arrives at the PD meeting in Rome (Photo: AP)

ROME (AP) — Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi admonished his Democratic Party on Monday to stop its internal squabbling and focus instead on defeating the populist politicians and protectionist politics gaining popularity in Europe.

Renzi repeatedly cited the name of U.S. President Donald Trump while making a pitch to other top Democratic figures for a united front ahead of a national election that might come as soon as the spring.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2018, but calls for voters to go to the polls this spring instead have been rising from some opposition leaders, including the anti-immigrant, far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini and the 5-Star Movement led by comic-turned-populist firebrand Beppe Grillo.

Opinion polls show the 5-Stars making headway in their bid to dethrone the Democrats as Italy's biggest vote-getting party.

Renzi resigned as premier after losing a Dec. 4 referendum on some key reforms. He remains the Democrats' leader, but more left-leaning elements of the party have criticized his leadership, with ex-Premier Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist, among his biggest detractors.

In his speech, Renzi reminded his Democratic rivals to keep their focus on the 5-Star Movement and the smaller far-right parties wooing Italians disenchanted by years of virtually no economic growth, saying more attention must be paid to the frustrations of the middle class.

"The politics of fear" are fueling populists' and far-right parties' popularity, Renzi said, adding that the Democrats should concentrate on countering "Trumpism," or "at least Grilloism."

"Have you seen the video of Marine Le Pen's presentation?" Renzi asked, citing the French far-right leader's recent ringing speech as she aims to become French president this spring.

A previous Democratic leader, Pier Luig Bersani, spoke about the declining fortunes of the middle class, saying "large inequality isn't being stomached" by voters anymore.

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