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POLITICS

Italy’s ‘untouchable’ ex-PM Andreotti dies at 94

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

Italy's 'untouchable' ex-PM Andreotti dies at 94
File photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Andreotti, a key figure in the once-dominant Christian Democratic party, died at his home in central Rome. He had suffered ill health in recent years and was hospitalized 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 and the Holy See.

Andreotti was "a leading protagonist for over 60 years of public life," said Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

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.

Rome's Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which leads from the historic centre to the Vatican, was closed off to the public by police so that mourners visiting Andreotti's home could pay their respects.

"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.

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".

Andreotti was "a highly disputed figure," fellow former premier Massimo D'Alema said.

Anti-mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingroia said that while "Andreotti, with his many shadows, is dead, Andreottism is certainly not," in a reference to ties in Italy between power and organised crime.

Andreotti 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.

Philip Willan, author of "Puppetmasters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy", said the former premier was "a very good illustration of the strange bedfellows created by the Cold War. Someone like him could be a great friend of the pope but also in contact with mafiosi, allegedly."

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 accusations lingered, however, particularly after testimony provided by mafia turncoats who alleged that he had met with Cosa Nostra dons.

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

"I know when I die I will not have to answer for Pecorelli or the mafia. Other things yes. But on those two things my papers are in order," Andreotti once said.

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

With his stooped figure and bespectacled, hangdog expression, Andreotti was the butt of many jokes and was popularly dubbed "The Hunchback".

Ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, who founded the anti-establishment Five Star movement, once said: "The day that Giulio dies, we'll open up the black box in his hump."

The news of his death sparked irreverent responses on Twitter, with one tweeter saying: "He'll resurrect in three days."

Political commentators also spoke Monday of the vast collection of documents and private letters Andreotti left behind him in a vault in Rome.

"The most feared and sought after archive" in Italy, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, it holds 3,500 envelopes of tightly-restricted information, some of which has never been documented.

Andreotti "was a very skilful operator and unscrupulous too. He was one of these people who knew an enormous amount but was never going to talk. It would have been opening a lid on a pandora's box," the author Willan said.

Andreotti lived in a luxurious apartment building facing the Vatican and boasted intimate relations with a succession of popes.

According to La Stampa daily, he met his first pontiff when as a child he snuck into a group of pilgrims meeting Pius XI.

He became a regular presence within the tiny city state and was said by some to wield great influence.

As editor of the Concretezza magazine in 1958, on the eve of the papal conclave to elect a successor to Piu XII he published an edition featuring the Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Roncalli, on the cover.

Days later, Roncalli was elected to become Pope John XXIII.

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POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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