Italy's besieged premier struggles to save his job

Associated Press
Italian Premier Enrico Letta arrives at a press conference after visiting a Milan's Turism fair, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

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ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Enrico Letta made a last-ditch pitch to hold on to power Wednesday amid a crescendo of calls from critics, including rivals in his own party, for a new leader who would pump life into Italy's economy.

"Whoever wants to take my place must tell me what they want to do" when in office, Letta told a news conference. "I am proud of what we have done in these 10 months."

Letta noted that growth was negative when he took office and now it has just started to turn positive. He said public debt has gone down for the first time in six years, in part thanks to his government's efforts to privatize much of the sprawling state economy.

Hours earlier, he huddled with Matteo Renzi, the Florence mayor and head of his Democratic Party who has made no secret that he covets Letta's job. Renzi insists, however, he wants to come to power through an election, not backroom maneuvers.

Renzi will hold a top-level party meeting on Thursday that will be crucial to deciding whether Letta keeps his job.

Without naming anyone, Letta challenged those who want him to get step aside.

"You don't step down because of hearsay, because of power plays," he said.

Milan's stock exchange was up Wednesday, but any prolonged political turmoil could upset the markets.

If Letta's party yanks its support, Renzi could be tapped to try to form a new government. But any new coalition would need to win a vote of confidence in parliament.

Should Letta hold on to power, a significant Cabinet reshuffling is expected.

"I have lived every day like it's my last because there were so many who have been trying to kick me out," Letta said.

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