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League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media during the second day of consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi(reuters_tickers)
By Alberto Sisto and Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) - Talks to try to break the stalemate following an inconclusive election in Italy failed to make any progress on Thursday, as parties stuck to their previous, apparently irreconcilable positions.
The March 4 vote produced a hung parliament. A conservative bloc comprising the League, the Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia won the most seats, while the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement emerged as the largest single party.
The 5-Star has said it is willing to govern with the far-right League, but has ruled out working with the more mainstream Forza Italia or its leader, four times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The 5-Star Movement, which bases its appeal on a promise to clean up politics, refuses to countenance a deal with the 81-year-old media billionaire who has a conviction for tax fraud and is on trial for bribing witnesses - a charge he denies.
President Sergio Mattarella launched a second round of consultations on Thursday after a first round last week failed to break the deadlock.
In last week's talks the rightist parties met Mattarella separately, but this time they saw the head of state together in a show of unity.
Salvini read a joint statement at the end of the meeting saying he and his allies were ready to build a government together "as a united front", adding that his own party would indicate the name of the prime minister.
With Berlusconi nodding and gesticulating alongside him, Salvini called on 5-Star to show a sense of responsibility.
"If we continue with a political game of tactics, of 'no' and of vetoes while Italians suffer and wait for solutions, it would mean that the demand for change that emerged from the March 4 elections won't be met," Salvini said.
However, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio emerged from his own meeting with Mattarella insisting that Berlusconi remained an unsurmountable obstacle to building a coalition.
"We see only one solution to resolve this stalemate, this solution concerns Silvio Berlusconi. He should step to one side and allow the creation of a government of change," Di Maio told reporters.
The other main political group, the ruling Democratic Party, lost badly in the election and insists it will go into opposition - a position it reiterated on Thursday - rejecting repeated calls from 5-Star to discuss a possible coalition.
Mattarella's next move may be to appoint someone else to hold more flexible, informal talks aimed at brokering a deal, a source in his office told Reuters this week.
The source said on Thursday the president was unlikely to hold a third round of formal consultations.
However, political sources say the impasse is unlikely to be broken before local elections later this month in the small regions of Molise in the south, and Friuli Venezia Giulia in the north.
Both 5-Star and the League look unwilling to compromise while campaigning, with 5-Star hoping to win control of its first ever region in Molise and the League the hot favourite to win a clear victory in Friuli Venezia Giulia.
If Mattarella, with the possible help of his appointed mediator, fails to break the impasse, he would have to call new elections, almost certainly in the autumn. But the source in his office said he was determined to avoid this.
(additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Editing by Toby Chopra)