October 29, 2015 / 6:44 PM / 2 years ago

Rome mayor withdraws resignation, defying Italian PM Renzi

ROME (Reuters) - Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, tainted by an expenses scandal, on Thursday withdrew the resignation he had tendered three weeks ago under pressure from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, causing ructions in their Democratic Party (PD).

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino looks on during a news conference in Rome, Italy, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Marino continues to lack the support of Renzi and his decision to battle on in office opens up a potentially damaging conflict for the prime minister.

Instead of bowing to pressure from the premier, Marino said he would defend his record in city hall, where he no longer appears to have a majority, and challenge the councillors of his own PD party to vote him out of office.

He told reporters he wanted “an open, frank and transparent discussion” in the “proper place of democracy”.

Marino, who has steadily lost popularity since being elected in 2013, denied any wrongdoing when he announced his resignation on Oct. 8, following allegations that he had tendered inaccurate claims for several restaurant meals.

He never formally left office and in his original resignation letter, he said he could reverse his decision if he felt the political mood had shifted.

However, that does not appear to have happened.

Renzi has distanced himself openly from Marino, saying he had “lost the confidence of the Romans”, and the PD said earlier on Thursday it would pull all its councillors from the city government if Marino withdrew his resignation.

It was not clear how Marino, a 60-year-old former liver surgeon, hoped to continue to govern without the backing of the PD councillors.

The tensions in city hall and the stand-off between Renzi and Marino have dominated Italian news headlines for weeks.

Many Romans complain city services such as trash collection, road maintenance and transport have got worse under Marino.

The mayor’s supporters say he inherited a disastrous situation from his right-wing predecessor, who is under investigation for corruption. They have held several rallies in his defence since he first announced his resignation.

The rumpus comes just weeks before the start of a Catholic Holy Year, declared by the pope, which is expected to draw millions of visitors to the capital. Work on preparing the creaking city for this influx has barely started.

After Marino resigned, Renzi said he would set up a “dream team” of administrators to shepherd Rome through the early months of the Holy Year until new mayoral elections could be held next spring or early summer.

On Nov. 5 a major trial will begin in the city, bringing to court dozens of politicians and businessmen arrested at the end of last year for allegedly rigging public contracts in areas from Roma camps to refuse management and immigrant centres.

Marino is not implicated and is expected to appear at the trial to present the Italian capital as an injured party.

With the mainstream parties on the left and right weakened by corruption scandals, polls say the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is now Rome’s most popular party and would be in pole position if new mayoral elections were to be held soon.

Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Crispian Balmer and John Stonestreet

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