Nazi war criminal Priebke's funeral halted amid protests

  • 16 October 2013
  • From the section Europe

The funeral service for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke in Italy has been halted amid angry protests.

More than 500 people in the city of Albano Laziale shouted "murderer" and "executioner", and clashed with Nazi sympathisers, as his coffin passed.

The former German SS officer, who was jailed for life in 1998 over the killing of more than 300 civilians, died under house arrest last week.

His death led to fierce debate over what to do with his body.

That question remains after the funeral was suspended on Tuesday evening.

The exact reason for the halt in the ceremony is unclear, although Priebke's lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said it had been stopped because the authorities had prevented friends and family entering.

The agency quoted Mr Giachini as saying that the funeral was "a moment of mourning" that had nothing to do with politics.

Image caption Erich Priebke was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest in Rome

Priebke was one of the SS officers present during the killing of men and boys at Rome's Ardeatine Caves in 1944, in a reprisal attack ordered by Adolf Hitler for the killing of 33 German soldiers in Rome by resistance fighters.

He died aged 100 and had never apologised for his actions.

The Vatican had issued an unprecedented ban on holding the funeral in any Catholic church in Rome.

Argentina, where Priebke lived for nearly 50 years before being extradited to Italy, has refused to take the body.

But the Society of St Pius X - a Catholic splinter group which has in the past faced criticism over anti-Semitic leanings among its members - offered to hold the ceremony.

'Take him to the landfill'

Angry demonstrators who had gathered in Albano Laziale jeered at and hit the hearse carrying Priebke's coffin as it made its way to the funeral.

"Take him to the landfill!" one man shouted, according to the French news agency AFP.

According to Italian media, the coffin was taken into the seminary of the Society of St Pius X, and the service had already begun when protesters broke into the compound.

It is unclear whether the body remained in the seminary overnight or was moved to a different location.

After World War II, Priebke lived in the Argentine Andean resort of Bariloche, before his identity was discovered in 1994.

He was then extradited to Italy and jailed - but because of his age and poor health he was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest in Rome.

Image caption The Mayor of Albano Laziale, Nicola Marini, turned out to complain that the funeral was going ahead
Image caption Riot police moved in as clashes broke out between protesters and Nazi supporters
Image caption The unrest continued into the night

Correction 16 October: An earlier version of this story mentioned Don Floriano Abrahamowicz and inaccurately described him as a St Pius X priest. He has in fact been expelled by the order.

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