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Controversial seven-time Italian premier Andreotti dies aged 94

Giulio Andreotti — nicknamed “The Untouchable” and “The Black Pope” — was a divisive figure in Italian politics, with close ties to the Vatican and rumoured mafia links.

GIULIO ANDREOTTI, a Machiavellian seven-time Italian prime minister who dominated the political scene for decades, died on Monday at the age of 94.

Andreotti, a key figure in the once-dominant Christian Democratic party, died at his home in central Rome, according to his relatives.

He had suffered ill health in recent years and was hospitalised in August last year with heart trouble.

A private funeral will be held on Tuesday in Andreotti’s local church for the staunchly pro-Catholic politician, who had close ties with the Vatican and was accused of shadowy links to the mafia.

Flags will be flown at half-mast at sporting events across Italy in honour of Andreotti, who helped bring the Olympics to Rome in 1960.

“He was the engineer of this country’s reconstruction” after World War II, Paolo Cirino Pomicino, a former minister under Andreotti, said on news channel Sky TG 24.

“He had an international prestige that Italian politicians rarely enjoy,” he said.

Lorenzo Cesa, secretary of the Christian-Democrat UCD party, said Andreotti “was one of the most extraordinary protagonists of Italy’s history… a timeless political talent”.

Political violence in 1970s and 1980s

A controversial figure associated with a period of political violence which rocked Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, critics accused Andreotti of Machiavellian behaviour and nicknamed him “The Untouchable” and “The Black Pope”.

Fellow former premier Massimo D’Alema said Andreotti was “a highly disputed figure… for his conception of power.”

Andreotti was accused of shadowy links with organised crime, and was blamed for refusing to negotiate for his political rival Aldo Moro’s freedom, when the latter was kidnapped — and later murdered — by the Red Brigades in 1978.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for ordering the murder of an investigative journalist in 1979 after a high-profile trial, but an appeals court cleared him in 2003 and he served no time in prison.

The journalist in question, Mino Pecorelli, had been publishing articles alleging Andreotti had ties to the mafia.

Taking secrets ‘to the grave’

Giulia Bongiorno, one of his defence lawyers, said he was “a unique person.”

Breaking down in tears in front of journalists, she said: “Only those who knew him well knew how much he was worth. Those who knew him will feel an immense loss.”

But Riccardo Barenghi, a former editor of leftist daily Il Manifesto, said: “He takes many secrets to the grave with him.”

“For better or for worse, and above all for worse, he was a protagonist of our political life,” he said.

Andreotti lived in a luxurious apartment building facing the Vatican, with which he always enjoyed strong ties as a staunchly Catholic politician.

- © AFP, 2013

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