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Giorgio Napolitano: From fighter to fixer
Newly-elected Italian President Giorgio Napolitano waves to the public
Giorgio Napolitano was a moderate in the Communist Party

Octogenarian Giorgio Napolitano is the first former communist to be elected Italy's president.

Coaxed out of retirement and persuaded to run for the job, the political veteran's time in office has certainly not been dull.

Nominated by Prime Minister Romano Prodi and elected in 2006, the post has demanded all his renowned tact and experience.

It is a role that is supposed to embody the unity of the country, and while the president has limited constitutional powers - to appoint the prime minister, dissolve parliament and veto "unconstitutional" legislation - they are nonetheless important.

Mr Napolitano faced his first crisis after just 10 months when Mr Prodi resigned after losing a vote on foreign policy in the Senate, the upper house of parliament.

But after a series of talks, Italy's governing coalition agreed a plan to let Mr Prodi stay in office.

And it is a case of deja vu in 2008.

Crisis talks

He has found himself in crisis talks again after Mr Prodi lost a vote of confidence in the Senate and resigned.

The president is looking towards interim rule rather than calling a snap election to end the impasse.

Another contentious period of his presidency came when he pardoned a member of a left-wing guerrilla group that carried out one of Italy's most notorious murders.

Mr Napolitano also sparked the cancellation of an official visit to Croatia after describing the massacre of thousands of Italians by Yugoslav communists during World War II as "ethnic cleansing".

Mr Napolitano may be an ex-communist but during decades in parliament he earned the respect of conservative opponents.

At the time of his election, he promised to be impartial. "Otherwise I wouldn't have accepted" the nomination, he said.

Jeers

An anti-Fascist resistance fighter in World War II, he joined the Communist Party in 1945 and was elected to parliament in 1953.

Mr Napolitano quickly became a prime mover in the reformist wing of the party and on the collapse of the Soviet Union advocated losing the party's name and hammer and sickle emblem.

When the party split, he sided with the social democratic wing - the current Democrats of the Left - and was a supporter of an alliance with the US.

His support of the US-led Gulf War earned him respect from conservatives and anger among some of his colleagues.

"We must resist the temptation of once again turning America into the traditional bogeyman of the left," he said to a din of jeers at a party congress in 1991.

'Indecent proposal'

As speaker of the lower house, he was applauded for non-biased leadership.

Right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left his chair to shake Mr Napolitano's hand in 1994 after he gave a speech preaching dialogue between left and right.

He was made interior minister under Mr Prodi in 1996 and a member of the European Parliament in 1999.

Such was his esteem that Mr Napolitano, a tall, bespectacled native of Naples, was made a Senator for Life in 2005.

However, his reputation as a bridge-builder did not save him from a bruising battle to be made president.

Mr Berlusconi refused to back a former communist for the role, rejecting the idea as an "indecent proposal".

Mr Napolitano was eventually elected in a tight vote at the fourth attempt, indicative of the hostility between left and right that he would come up against as president.



SEE ALSO
Country profile: Italy
25 Jan 08 |  Country profiles

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