Italy buries its national hero as Berlusconi awaits America's explanation of his death

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The Independent Online

Italy's new national hero, Nicola Calipari, was laid to rest yesterday with pomp and ceremony. While a huge crowd watched on video screens outside, the secret agent killed by American gunfire was eulogised at a funeral mass in the ancient basilica of St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs at Piazza della Repubblica in the centre of Rome, in the presence of top officials of the state and politicians from all parts of the political spectrum.

Italy's new national hero, Nicola Calipari, was laid to rest yesterday with pomp and ceremony. While a huge crowd watched on video screens outside, the secret agent killed by American gunfire was eulogised at a funeral mass in the ancient basilica of St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs at Piazza della Repubblica in the centre of Rome, in the presence of top officials of the state and politicians from all parts of the political spectrum.

Stunned by the killing of its chief hostage negotiator only minutes away from safety, the government is awaiting the results of an investigation by the United States that President George Bush has promised will uncover the truth.

His prestige dented by the killing, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, will be hoping that the results arrive in time for him to shed some light on the affair when he addresses parliament tomorrow.

But yesterday, politics and political differences were set aside as Italy mourned the taciturn spy who hurled himself on top of Giuliana Sgrena, the hostage he had saved, as the Americans began firing, saving her life.

Held hostage in Iraq for a month, Ms Sgrena, a veteran war correspondent, has worked for Il Manifesto, a communist daily, since 1988. To the Italian left, the secret service was for many years its sworn enemy, blamed for ruthlessly framing and otherwise disposing of uncooperative leftists, the tendency immortalised in Dario Fo's bitter farce, Accidental death of an Anarchist. But the supposedly accidental death of MrCalipari has brought about an improbable compact.

"He's a hero for me," said Gabriele Polo, editor of Il Manifesto, "and I used to throw cobblestones at the police. Can the so-called radical left weep for a person like Nicola Calipari? Yes. I believe Nicola must be considered a hero, like all those who die pursuing a just cause without taking account of their own safety ... I've learnt that people must be judged not by their uniform but by their behaviour."

It is the second time tragedy in Iraq has kindled an unexpected sense of national unity here, the first being the killing by a suicide bomber of 19 Italian soldiers serving in Nasiriyah 17 months ago. No voice is raised against Mr Berlusconi's unofficial policy of paying ransoms; on the contrary, civilised Italian values are contrasted with those of the US for whom, as Ms Sgrena put it, "war is war, human life is worth little".

One of the founders of the peace movement in the 1980s, Ms Sgrena worked for the daily newspaper, Guerra e Pace (War and Peace), before joining Il Manifesto.

At the funeral service, Gianni Letta, the close adviser to Silvio Berlusconi who was in charge of this, and previous, hostage negotiations, said of Mr Calipari: "You have restored our faith in Italy. You have restored to Italians the notion of patria." Mr Calipari, 51, "was a man of courage but also of quietness, who made of reserve and discretion his style of life and work. He was a strong man, but at the same time he was calm, as his reassuring smile revealed, under his carefully trimmed moustache".

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, rejected as "simply absurd" yesterday the idea US soldiers had deliberately fired on "innocent civilians".

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