Rome, November 2 - A chorus of Italian right-wing and centrist politicians on Friday mourned Pino Rauti, former leader of Italy's main postwar neo-Fascist party, the Italian Social Movement, who died in Rome at 86. "He was an impassioned intellectual and sometimes controversial, but he always defended his ideas with great tenacity," said former premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose sentiments were echoed by the secretary of his centre-right People of Freedom Party (PdL). "Rauti leaves all of us, especially the young, with a lesson: there is a necessary link between politics and culture, between concrete action in the present and historical, social and cultural research," said Angelino Alfano. Pier Ferdinando Casini, the leader of the centrist UDC, called Rauti "a courageous intellectual of great depth". A diehard soldier in Benito Mussolini's puppet regime of Salo', Rauti founded one of Italy's main postwar neo-Fascist groups, Far, in 1946, along with former comrade Giorgio Almirante before throwing in his lot with the bigger MSI. He left the MSI, led by the charismatic Almirante, in the mid-50s, forming the more radical Ordine Nuovo (New Order), but returned to the fold in 1972 and became party leader off and on until 1987, when he was defeated by Gianfranco Fini, now House Speaker. Rauti marched off with a small band of diehards when Fini turned the MSI into the more moderate National Alliance in 1995. Rauti's new party, dubbed the MS-Tricolor Flame, refused an alliance with the centre right in 1996 - a move that cost the coalition led by then premier Silvio Berlusconi several key marginal seats. Fini eventually became first an ally and later a party colleague of Berlusconi before an acrimonious split two years ago. "Rigorous parliamentarian, intellectual of profound culture, Rauti passionately expressed the dedication and ideals of the nation," said a statement from Fini's office Friday. Rauti, a journalist for the Rome-based daily Il Tempo, was at various times linked to extremist tendencies and even terrorism but the claims never stuck, including being brought to trial over alleged links to the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan, which killed 17 people. An icon of the far right, Rauti was admired by supporters for his anti-capitalist views, criticism of American 'imperialism' and support for improving conditions in the developing world. His daughter is married to Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, a leading member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. Funeral services for Rauti are scheduled Monday in Rome's St Mark's church.