Rome

Italy bids farewell to seven-time premier Andreotti

Private funeral for one of country's most influential figures

Italy bids farewell to seven-time premier Andreotti

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, May 7 - The Italian politician who has been called the most influential of the country's postwar era, Giulio Andreotti, was laid to rest on Tuesday following a private ceremony in Rome's San Giovanni dei Fiorentini church. Complying with his wishes, no state funeral was held for the 94-year-old, seven-time premier who died in his home in the center of Rome on Monday. Tuesday's afternoon funeral service was attended by figures of all political stripes including Senate Speaker and Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso, Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, Centrist Catholic leader Pier Ferdinando Casini and the daughter of historic postwar leader Alcide De Gasperi who took Andreotti under his wing in his early years, Romana. Instead of a higher-ranking bishop, the church priest, Don Luigi Venuti, performed the mass for the staunch Vatican supporter and openly religious political figure. Tributes and messages continued to arrive from world leaders and well-known figures from the Italian political sphere throughout the day before Andreotti's funeral. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano paid his respects as Andreotti's body lay in state at his Rome home ahead of a private funeral later in the day. Earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to Napolitano to pay tribute to Andreotti. "The name of this eminent politician is linked to an entire era of Italian history," read a telegram Putin sent to Napolitano, which was published on the Kremlin's website. Putin added that Russia will remember Andreotti as a coherent supporter of stronger relationships of friendship between the countries and of bilateral cooperation Israeli President Shimon Peres also sent his respects, calling Andreotti "a friend of the Jewish people". "We will be eternally grateful for his role in saving the Jewish community in Libya," the Israeli head of state told ANSA. Andreotti was also a longtime friend of the Palestinians and a consummate diplomat who brokered crucial, previously unthinkable meetings, a top adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told ANSA on Monday. "Italy has lost one of the greatest European politicians since World War II," said Nemer Hammad, who served as Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) delegate in Rome for 30 years. "Andreotti was the undisputed architect" of the first Mediterranean Arab-European summit in Rome, said Hammad, adding that he was responsible for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's first visit to Italy in 1982, bringing about a meeting between Arafat and then pope John Paul II. To highlight the plight of Palestinian refugees, Andreotti in 1979 convinced the UN World Food Program, which is headquartered in Rome, to buy Palestinian olive oil for humanitarian purposes. "This caused a remarkable change in world public opinion towards Palestine," said Hammad, adding his own personal anecdote about the late Christian Democrat (DC) leader. There were also discordant voices sounding in on Andreotti's death. The son of a financial liquidator killed on the orders of a late Mafia-linked banker with ties to Andreotti on Tuesday walked out of a Milan commemoration. Centre-left Lombardy co-ordinator Umberto Ambrosoli is the son of Giorgio Ambrosoli, a Milanese lawyer slain by the Mafia in 1979 at the age of 45 after he found evidence of malpractice while liquidating one of the Italian banks of Michele Sindona - a Cosa Nostra-linked Sicilian financier once hailed by Andreotti as "the saviour of the lira". Umberto Ambrosoli walked out of a regional assembly commemoration of former Christian Democrat statesman Andreotti, saying: "I have a personal history which mingles with the dark sides of Andreotti's. On Monday, former anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro said that the death of Andreotti does not cancel out his murky past. Among many blotches on Andreotti's 40 years in public office, his alleged links to the Mafia and his alleged involvement in the 1979 murder of journalist Pecorelli landed him in court, while the early 1990s Bribesville scandals scotched his seemingly unstoppable rise to the presidency.

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