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Italy's economy minister denies resignation reports

FILE PHOTO: Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria holds a news conference after a Euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Giuseppe Fonte and Riccardo Bastianello

ROME/VENICE (Reuters) - Italy's Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said on Friday he would not resign and dismissed newspaper reports that he was on the verge of quitting amidst talks with Brussels over next year's budget.

Speculation over Tria's possible departure has been rampant since September, when he first tried and failed to limit the government's spending plans.

The European Commission then rejected those plans, saying they broke EU public finance rules, and called on Rome to make changes to avoid a disciplinary procedure, which could eventually lead to fines.

Reports of Tria quitting reappeared this week as talks with the Commission over reducing the planned deficit spending came to a head.

The 70-year-old academic who does not belong to either of the ruling parties, appeared increasingly isolated on Thursday when he did not take part in a meeting with the prime minister and the leaders of the governing parties to asses the final costs of the measures contained in the budget.

At a conference in Venice on Friday, Reuters asked Tria if he had plans to resign. The minister shook his head and replied the idea "doesn't exist".

Tria also dismissed a report in daily Il Giornale that he had sent a text message to long-time friend and former minister Renato Brunetta complaining that his role was constantly put into question by the party leaders.

"GROUNDLESS FANTASY"

According to Il Giornale, he texted: "I can't take this any more."

The newspaper reported that he added: "I am subject to one ambush after another ... The only thing that interests me is saving the country."

Italian daily La Stampa said the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, one of the two ruling parties, wanted Tria to step down, accusing him of ceding too much ground in discussions with Brussels over the budget.

La Stampa, which did not cite any sources in its report, said 5-Star's coalition partner, the right-wing League, wanted him to remain.

But 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio denied on Friday that his party wanted Tria out.

"I deny any rumour on wanting Tria to resign ... Tria is doing a great job and a winning team must not be changed," Di Maio said.

A government source also dismissed the media reports as "groundless fantasy".

"The government is united in this delicate phase of dialogue with Europe over the budget," the source added.

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Giselda Vagnoni in Rome; Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Writing by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Andrew Heavens)

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