Italy looks set to send Nazi's body to Germany

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Erich Priebke was extradited to Italy in 1998. Photo: Daniel Luna/AFP
10:36 CEST+02:00
Italy appeared set to send the body of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke to Germany on Wednesday as it commemorated the 70th anniversary of a round-up of Jews from the historic Jewish quarter of Rome.

Clashes erupted in a town near Rome on Tuesday as a Catholic ultra-conservative sect tried to stage a funeral for the unrepentant former SS officer who was convicted for a massacre of 335 civilians.

The funeral was cancelled by a police order after some neo-Nazi sympathisers broke into the seminary in Albano Laziale and tried to stage a rally as hundreds of protesters outside shouted "Assassin!"

The coffin was then driven to a military airport outside Rome during the night after Priebke's lawyer and friend, Paolo Giachini, gave up his power of attorney for the funeral arrangements.

"We are planning to resolve the situation today. We are in contact with Germany," Rome prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro told reporters on Wednesday.

"We had to cancel the funeral yesterday because there was a risk that it could have become a neo-Nazi demonstration," he said.

At least two people were detained by police at the scene of the clashes, where some of the protesters were seen fighting with bottles and chains.

A rock was later thrown at the windscreen of the van driving Priebke's coffin to the airport.

Protesters had earlier kicked and spat on the hearse as it arrived for the start of the funeral.

The Holocaust denier died on Friday at the age of 100 and has provoked outrage even in death with the Vatican issuing an unprecedented order forbidding any Catholic church in Rome from holding his funeral.

He had been living under house arrest in the Italian capital after being extradited in 1998 from Argentina, where he had fled with a Vatican travel document soon after World War II.

Priebke had wanted to be buried in Argentina next to his wife but the government there earlier said it would not accept the body.

Jewish groups and relatives of the people he executed said he should be cremated and his ashes scattered to erase every trace.

There is concern that a burial could create a pilgrimage point for neo-Nazi sympathisers.

The furore comes at a particularly sensitive time in Italy on the anniversary of the round-up of the Jews from the Rome Ghetto on October 16th 1943.

More than 1,000 Jews were taken away to concentration camps and only 16 returned.

Speaking ahead of a ceremony in the Ghetto synagogue, Rome mayor Ignazio Marino said the city could not tolerate holding Priebke's funeral.

"Rome could not accept the funeral of a man who actively took part in the massacre of 335 people, shooting them in the back of the neck," he said.

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The Gestapo ordered the mass killing in the Ardeatine caves near Rome as retaliation for a partisan attack which killed 33 German soldiers.

They shot 10 Italians for every dead German, and five more who had been brought to the caves by mistake.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and other top officials were expected at the synagogue ceremony with Holocaust survivors later on Wednesday.

"Today is the day to remember what happened 70 years ago, to remember the wound, the tragic moment in the history of our city," he said.

"The seed of pain and violence still exists and we have to root it out through memory," said the mayor, who will travel to Auschwitz this weekend with a group of Rome high-schoolers.

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