The Latest: Italian PM is asked to stay as caretaker leader

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Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte addresses the Senate as Deputy-Premier Matteo Salvini holds a rosary while sitting beside him, in Rome, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. The political showdown on Tuesday was triggered two weeks ago by hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, known across Europe for his tough stance against migrants, when he pulled the plug on the shaky populist coalition forged only 14 months earlier between his right-wing League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — The Latest on Italy’s government crisis (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has tendered his resignation to Italy’s president, who has asked Conte and his government to stay in place as a caretaker Cabinet as he hold talks with political parties to chart out the nation’s future.

President Sergio Mattarella’s office said in a statement that he will start his consultations with Italian parties on Wednesday afternoon. The talks aim to explore options that include possibly forming a new governing coalition that has the support of a majority in parliament.

If that proves impossible, the president will dissolve parliament and call an early election.

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6:45 p.m.

Italian League’s leader and hard-line Interior minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly kissed a rosary while sitting in the Senate next to Premier Giuseppe Conte, who was delivering a key speech in which he announced his resignation.

It wasn’t the first time that the far-right leader pulled out a rosary in public, but his gesture on Tuesday seemed to be an open challenge to Conte, who in his address to senators accused Salvini of “religious insensitivity” for using “religious symbols for politics purposes.”

During a later address to senators, Salvini fired back to Conte by saying: “I’ll ask the Madonna for protection for as long as I live”.

Conte has announced plans to tender his resignation later in the day, blaming Salvini for his decision to end his 14-month-old populist government with an “irresponsible” move.

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4:45 p.m.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, says he triggered a government crisis in the middle of the summer because he doesn’t fear the prospect of an early vote.

Salvini addressed senators on Tuesday after Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced he will tender his resignation, putting an end to the populist government forged only 14 months ago.

Salvini said he would “do again everything I did … I’m a free man and I don’t fear Italians’ judgment.” Salvini has been maneuvering to become Italy’s next leader as support for his party grows on his anti-migrant stance.

Earlier, Conte had blasted Salvini for his “irresponsible” move that has abruptly interrupted the work of the government. He added that Salvini has acted only to pursue his “personal interests” and capitalize on his soaring popularity.

Conte also stressed that a sudden government crisis puts Italy at risk of “political and financial instability.”

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4 p.m.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has announced his resignation, blaming his decision to end his 14-month-old populist government on his rebellious right-wing coalition partner.

He told senators on Tuesday he is handing in his resignation because his right-wing coalition partner, the League party led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has decided to yank its support for the populist government.

Conte said he will go later Tuesday to officially inform Italian President Sergio Mattarella of his decision. Mattarella, as head of state, could ask Conte to stay on and try to find an alternative majority in Parliament, or accept his resignation and see if some other leader can forge an alternative coalition.

Failing that, Mattarella could dissolve Parliament, setting the stage for a new general election as early as October.

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