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Former Italian president and one-time communist dies aged 98

Former Italian president Giorgio Napolitano has died aged 98 after being treated in a Rome hospital for weeks.

Mr Napolitano served from 2006 to 2015 and was the first person to be elected twice to the seven-year post.

His second term began in 2013 but he stepped down two years later, citing his advancing age when he was then 89.

Supporters praised his balanced attitude and he was sometimes referred to as “King Giorgio” – but critics claimed he was excessively cautious.


Although the Italian presidential role is mostly ceremonial, in 2011 he used his powers to help steer the country through a debt crisis.

The one-time communist named ex-European Commission technocrat Mario Monti to lead a government after then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi quit in a row over spending cuts.

Two years later, Mr Napolitano broke another impasse when he installed a grand coalition under centre-left politician Enrico Letta after an inconclusive parliamentary election.

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He is the first former communist – and so far the only one – to serve as head of state.

His successor, the current president Sergio Mattarella, said Mr Napolitano’s life “mirrored a large part of [Italy’s] history in the second half of the 20th century, with its dramas, its complexity, its goals, its hopes”.

Mr Napolitano and Pope Francis in 2013. Pic: AP

‘Great gifts of intellect’

Pope Francis said the late president “showed great gifts of intellect and sincere passion for Italian political life as well as strong interest for the fates of nations”.

The pontiff added: “I gratefully recall the personal meetings I had with him, during which I appreciated his humanity and foresight in making important choices with rectitude, especially at delicate times for the life of the country.”

Current prime minister Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right party is at the opposite end of the political spectrum to the late president, expressed her government’s condolences.

During the Second World War, Mr Napolitano fought against the Italian Fascists and Nazi occupiers.

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Political career

When the war ended, he joined the Italian Communist Party, and in 1953 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of parliament) – a seat he would hold for 10 terms.

When the Italian Communist Party dissolved in 1991, he joined its successor, the Democratic Party of the Left, and became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in 1992.

He also served as Italy’s interior minister between 1996 and 1998 under the centre-left government of Romano Prodi.

He was elected to the European parliament in 1989 and remained until 1992, before returning in 1999 when he became president of its committee on constitutional affairs until 2004.

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


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