Marco Pannella, maverick in Italian postwar politics, dies - InfoNews

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Marco Pannella, maverick in Italian postwar politics, dies

FILE - In this Saturday, May 5, 2007 file photo, Marco Pannella holds a poster while demonstrating in front of the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Marco Pannella, the maverick radical politician who was crucial to Italian post-war campaigns to legalize abortion and other social change, has died. He was 86. (AP Photo/Sandro Pace, File)
May 19, 2016 - 8:40 AM

ROME - Marco Pannella, a maverick radical politician who was crucial to Italian postwar campaigns to legalize abortion, divorce and other social change, died Thursday. He was 86.

His death was announced by Radio Radicale, the radio station of Pannella's political party. Pannella, who was known for his hunger strikes, sit-ins, and recourse to political referenda to push his liberal, oftentimes anti-church agenda, had been hospitalized at a Rome clinic in recent days.

Premier Matteo Renzi eulogized the cigar-chomping veteran politician as a "lion of freedom," and tributes poured in from across Italy's political spectrum.

Pannella was one of the founders of Italy's Radical Party in the 1950s. As a member of parliament and outside agitator over the ensuing decades, he was crucial to pushing the overwhelmingly Catholic Italy to legalize divorce and abortion.

On the international stage, the grizzled activist was also a known peacenik, friends with the Dalai Lama and a fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. Despite his anti-clerical rhetoric, he found common cause with the Vatican on efforts to end world hunger and the death penalty.

Pannella, who served several stints as a European parliamentarian, had been diagnosed in recent years with tumors in his lung and liver, and had had frequent hospital stays due to his hunger strikes.

Despite his anti-church positions, Pannella had a great fondness for Pope Francis and their shared concern for upholding the rights of prisoners, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Francis, in fact, sent Pannella a copy of his book on mercy for his recent birthday and had phoned him in 2014 urging he end a hunger strike that he had launched to protest prison conditions.

"Marco Panella was someone with whom we often disagreed, but who one couldn't but appreciate for his total and disinterested commitment to noble causes," Lombardi said, adding that Pannella had frequently told him of his esteem for the Jesuit pope.

Italy's atheists, meanwhile, praised Pannella as the man who gave life to "the battle for civil rights" in Italy.

"Without his commitment on the front lines Italy probably would still be even more behind on the path to being a fully lay state," said the head of the association of atheists and agnostics, Stefano Incani.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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