Italy has said farewell to six soldiers killed in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan, with a state funeral on a day of national mourning.
Thousands of people lined the streets along the route of the cortege as it passed through Rome to the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls of the city. Onlookers applauded outside the church as comrades of the fallen men carried their coffins to and from the service. The suicide attack caused Italy’s biggest single loss of life in the war, prompting a debate about the country’s role in Afghanistan. Italy has some 2,800 troops there, with an additional contingent of 500, deployed to help police the recent election. Many of the country’s leading politicians attended the service including Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who has called on the international allies to adopt a “transition strategy” to allow Afghan forces to take responsibility for the nation’s security. A message of condolence from the Pope was read out during the ceremony. Pope Benedict XVI said he was “deeply saddened” by the attack and prayed for God’s support for those “who work every day to build solidarity, reconciliation and peace”. As the soldiers’ bodies were taken away for private burials, air force jets flew past, trailing the national colours.