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Giorgio Napolitano, former Italian president, dies aged 98

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo Italian President Giorgio Napolitano arrives for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany
FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo Italian President Giorgio Napolitano arrives for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP, ANSA
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Napolitano served as president for two terms and was an early backer of European integration.

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Giorgio Napolitano, the first former Communist to rise to Italy's presidency, died on Friday, the Quirinal presidential palace said.

Napolitano, who was also the first person to be elected twice to the mostly ceremonial presidency, was 98-years-old. A statement issued Friday night by the presidential palace confirmed Italian news reports of the death of Napolitano, who had been ailing in a Rome hospital for weeks.

The current president, Sergio Mattarella, in a message hailed his predecessor as head of state, saying that Napolitano's life "mirrored a large part of the history" of Italy in the second half of the 20th century.

AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Giorgio Napolitano is seen in this 1991 file photo at the time when he was a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).AP/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

As a prominent member of what had long been the largest Communist party in the West, Napolitano had advocated positions that often veered from party orthodoxy. He sought dialogue with Italian and European socialists to end his party's isolation, and he was an early backer of European integration.

A life in politics

Born in Naples on June 29, 1925, Napolitano served as the 11th president of the Italian Republic from 2006 to 2015, and was the first head of state to be elected for a second mandate in 2013, as well as being the country's first post-Communist president.

He was a former militant in, and then leader of, the reformist wing of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) until the establishment of the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) in 1991. As interior minister in the 1996-1998 centre-left government of Romano Prodi, he gave his name to Italy's first comprehensive immigration law, the so-called 'Turco-Napolitano', in 1998.

His long political career also took him to Strasbourg as a member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1992, before his election as Speaker of Italy's Lower House from 1992 until 1994.

His dominance of the political scene in Italy - and especially a key role in birthing the emergency Mario Monti-led government amid a sovereign debt crisis in 2011 - earned him the nickname King George.

This was not affectionate for many on the right who said he helped engineer the end of Silvio Berlusconi's final government, allegedly colluding with European authorities.

Italy's most popular politicians

But he regularly topped polls of Italy's most popular politicians.

In 2005 Napolitano was appointed life Senator by then President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, his predecessor as head of state and guarantor of Italy's post-war anti-fascist constitution.

A life-long Anglophile, Napolitano spoke fluent English and lectured at several American universities in the late 1970s.

During his long prominence in the PCI he often broke with party orthodoxy and criticised the Soviet Union, in particular over its invasion of Afghanistan in 1980.

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