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Italy's ex-president Giorgio Napolitano dies aged 98

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Italy's ex-president Giorgio Napolitano dies aged 98
Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 2014. Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, historic leader of the Communist Party and promoter of European integration, has died at the age of 98 on September 22nd, 2023. (Photo by Patrick HERTZOG / AFP)

Giorgio Napolitano, the first person to be elected as president of Italy twice, has died at the age of 98, the presidential palace has confirmed.

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Official sources confirmed on Friday night that former president and communist, Napolitano, has died in Rome after weeks in hospital.

Undersecretary of State Alfredo Mantovano has ordered a state funeral on Tuesday, which will be accompanied by a national day of mourning, according to Italian news agency Ansa.

In office between 2006 and 2015, Napolitano was considered a stalwart of stability during a particularly turbulent period in Italy – from the truncated premiership of Romano Prodi to the curtailed mandates of Silvio Berlusconi, Mario Monti and Enrico Letta.

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The country also experienced its gravest economic recession since the post-war period.

In 2013, Napolitano agreed to serve an unprecedented second term amid a fierce political deadlock, but resigned two years later because of his advancing age, opening up the post to Sergio Mattarella.

Italy's current president, Mattarella, wrote, "I am deeply saddened by his death" and "I extend to his family the condolences of the entire nation".

"In Giorgio Napolitano's life, is mirrored a large part of the history of the second half of the 20th century, with its dramas, its complexity, its goals and its hopes," he added.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella

Italian president Sergio Mattarella began formal consultations to form a new government on Thursday. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Former Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, described Napolitano as "an absolute protagonist of Italian and European history over the last seventy years".

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Italy's currently serving far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, expressed her condolences on behalf of the government.

Born in Naples on June 29th, 1925 into a family of intellectuals, Napolitano took part in the resistance against Nazi and fascist troops during World War II, founding a communist group.

At the end of the war, he joined the Italian Communist Party and was elected to parliament in 1953 after earning a law degree.

Napolitano was one of the most influential leaders of the party's reformist wing, although he notoriously supported the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956 to crush a liberal revolution.

With the collapse of the USSR, the Italian Communist Party was officially disbanded in 1991.

After turns as lower house speaker, interior minister and leftwing MEP, he became Italy's first ex-communist to be elected president in 2006.

The veteran held the rare quality of being respected by both right and left and an ability to stay above the party political fray.

He is survived by his wife, Clio, whom he married in 1959, and his two sons Giovanni and Giulio.

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