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Former Italian president Cossiga dies aged 82

Politicians of left and right unite in paying tribute

17 August, 18:44
Former Italian president Cossiga dies aged 82 (ANSA) - Rome, August 17 - Former Italian president Francesco Cossiga died at a Rome hospital on Tuesday at the age of 82.

Cossiga, head of state from 1985 until 1992, had been in critical condition since being rushed to hospital with respiratory problems last Monday. Doctors at Rome's Gemelli hospital said after his condition suffered "a sudden and drastic deterioration" during the night. Figures from both sides of the political divide united in paying tribute to the former Christian Democrat (DC) heavyweight.

''I'm mourning a very dear, affectionate, generous friend,'' Premier Silvio Berlusconi said in a statement.

''I'll miss his affection, his intelligence, his humour and his support''.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre left Democratic Party (PD), was also deeply saddened.

''A unique, extraordinary person has gone and so has a part of our history'', added the head of Italy's biggest opposition group.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI was saddened by the news and was praying for the life senator.

Cossiga left four personal letters to Berlusconi, President Giorgio Napolitano, Senate Speaker Renato Schifani and House Speaker Gianfranco Fini.

In the letter to Schifani he urged Italian Senators to do their best to "serve the nation". "May God protect Italy," said Cossiga addressing his "valorous and illustrious colleagues".

A private funeral will take place in a small town near Sassari where his parents were born in his native Sardinia after he ruled out the state funeral former heads of state are accorded. He will be lying in state at Rome's Gemelli hospital, where he died, from 10 AM local time to 18 PM local on Wednesday.

Cossiga was a leading member of the Christian Democrat party that governed the country for most of the post-war period before its demise in corruption scandals in the early 1990s.

He was interior minister when Red Brigade terrorists kidnapped and killed Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978 and resigned after criticism of his handling of the crisis.

He was also the premier of a government that ruled for just over 14 months between 1979 and 1980. The law graduate automatically became a life senator after serving as president.

Napolitano, who visited Cossiga in hospital last week, described him as a ''combative protagonist of one of the most intense and dramatic period's of our nation's history''.

''I mourn a courageous, extraordinary man who I was bonded to by sincere friendship that was cemented in dramatic, painful times,'' said Giulio Andreotti, another former premier and DC bigwig. ''I recall his fine, long-sighted, concrete political action, built on the Christian Democrat values put coherently into practise and great legal knowledge''.

Former European Commission president and two-time Italian premier Romano Prodi echoed those sentiments. ''With Francesco Cossiga's death, Italy loses one of the protagonists of the history of the republic,'' said Prodi. ''He was at the top of our country's political class in difficult, extremely complex times. He was able to carry out every role with strong personality and, above all, great respect for the institutions''. The Italian press, citing sources close to the former president, later reported that Cossiga in recent weeks had apparently been suffering from depression and had "let himself go".

He had been in poor health for some time. Ten years ago he had a hip replacement and a tumour removed from his colon and he had suffered several bouts of depression in recent years.

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