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Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Saturday, 14 November 2009

Mock funeral for Venice's 'death'

Native Venetians in a mock funeral procession in Venice, Italy,Nov.14, 2009
The coffin was carried by boat and through the streets

Venetians have been taking part in a mock funeral procession to highlight the city's dwindling population.

Organisers of Saturday's event say the population has dipped below 60,000, with many native Venetians choosing to live in more affordable areas.

Scientists are using the event to take DNA samples from Venetians to discover more about their origins.

City officials have refuted the claims that Venice is simply a "ghost town", filled only with tourists.

Residents carried an empty coffin in a procession of boats to the mayor's office.

The city's population has dropped by two-thirds since the 1950s and much of the blame has been put on tourism.

Premature

It has driven up food and property prices, forcing many people to move to the mainland.

Organiser Matteo Secchi told the BBC that Venice had changed for the worse.

"We promised two years ago when we got less than 60,000 inhabitants we would plan a funeral [for] the city because we think the city with less than 60,000 inhabitants is not a city any more, it's more a village," he said.

But officials say reports of the city's death are "premature".

An expert of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, left, takes saliva swabs in Venice, Italy, Nov. 14, 2009
DNA swabs will help scientists find out where Venetians originate from

The Venetian architect and historian, Francisco da Mosta, told the BBC that the government needed to step in to make the city habitable for its residents.

He said Venice is not being run "with intelligence or dignity".

Although the population of Venice's historic centre - including the piazzas and alleyways near the Grand Canal - dropped to 59,992 recently, on Thursday officials said it stood at 60,025.

Before the procession, official Mara Rumiz, who is in charge of the city's demographics, said the numbers ignored the 120,000 who lived on Venice's islands, such as Murano and Lido Beach, AP news agency reported.

Referring to the procession, she said: "They will have the funeral in a living village, not yet dead. And it won't die, even if it goes to 59,999."

She said Venice did need to do more to encourage people to live there and prevent it from solely turning into a tourist destination.

Meanwhile, scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts hope to take up to 5,000 DNA swabs to find out where the families of Venetian residents originally came from.



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