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Feb 21, 2:09 PM EST

Italy's Renzi brushes off schism, positions self for future



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ROME (AP) -- Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi brushed off a fracture within his ruling Democratic Party on Tuesday as he positioned himself to retake its leadership three months after suffering a humiliating defeat.

A left-leaning faction within the Democrats failed to show up at a decisive party meeting Tuesday after threatening a schism ahead of a national parliamentary election later this year or in 2018.

Renzi had stepped down as party leader over the weekend in hopes of getting a new, stronger mandate, and urged unity. But by Tuesday he seemed resigned that the faction led by Pier Luigi Bersani was leaving and said the party must move on.

"If someone wants to leave our community, we are pained by the choice but our mantra remains the same: Come, don't go," Renzi wrote on his blog. He said he was looking to the future, to the party's upcoming congress and was planning a new TV and social media blitz to get out his ideas.

Renzi resigned as premier after he lost a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional changes. Premier Paolo Gentiloni has been running the government until new elections are held. Many in the Democratic Party had bristled at Renzi's arrogant style and had defied him by urging voters to reject the referendum.

Amid the disarray, party founders urged the rebels to rethink, with former Premier Romano Prodi warning that it would be political "suicide" to break away at a time when populist forces are poised to make headway in the next election.

Another ex-premier, Enrico Letta, whom Renzi ousted as premier in a 2014 back-room coup, blamed Renzi for the party fracture but urged unity.

"It can't end like this," he pleaded on Facebook. "It's easy to destroy something. Much harder to build it."

The faction's apparent split doesn't mean that Renzi's route to the party leadership is clear, however. Renzi opponent Michele Emiliano, the president of the southern Puglia region, did show up at Tuesday's meeting and immediately announced he would run against Renzi.

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