Body of Nazi Erich Priebke moved to Italian airport

Protesters gather to show their anger at Erich Priebke's funeral procession

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The coffin of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke has been taken to a military airport near Rome after a funeral was halted following angry protests.

Italian officials said contacts had been made with Germany, amid media reports that Priebke's body could be flown there.

Priebke died under house arrest last week. He had been jailed for life over the killing of more than 300 civilians.

Italian media say his body could be kept at the airport for the time being.

A funeral in Albano Laziale, south of Rome, was called off on Tuesday amid scuffles between protesters and Nazi sympathisers.

A senior official in Rome province, Giuseppe Pecoraro, was quoted on Wednesday as saying Italian authorities had "initiated contacts with Germany."

"It's not in my remit to decide on a cremation or a place of burial, but we are working to resolve the situation according to what is most suitable," he said.

Both Argentina - where Priebke lived for nearly 50 years before being extradited to Italy - and Priebke's hometown in Germany have previously refused to take the body.

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said he knew of no laws preventing a German who had died abroad from being buried in Germany, but that it was normally "a matter for the relatives" to decide.

The row coincided with commemorations held for the 70th anniversary of the roundup of Jews in the Rome ghetto and their deportation to Auschwitz during World War II.

'Neo-Nazi risk'

Priebke died on Friday, aged 100.

Convicted former Nazi SS captain Erich Priebke leaves after attending a mass at a church in northern Rome October 17, 2010. Erich Priebke was allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest in Rome

He was one of the SS officers overseeing the killing of men and boys at Rome's Ardeatine Caves in 1944, one of the worst massacres in Italy during World War II.

In a reprisal for the killing of 33 German soldiers in Rome by resistance fighters, 335 Italian civilians were shot dead. It is believed that Adolf Hitler ordered 10 Italians killed for every German.

Though Priebke admitted his role in the massacre, he never expressed any remorse and maintained he was following orders.

He was extradited in 1994 after investigative journalists from US television network ABC News tracked him down in Argentina.

In 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison. However, he pleaded that he was too old and sick for jail, and was soon allowed to switch to a regime of house arrest.

The Vatican had issued an unprecedented ban on holding Priebke's funeral in any Catholic church in Rome, but a Catholic splinter group, the Society of St Pius X, offered to hold the ceremony.

As the coffin was taken to the Society's seminary in Albano Laziale on Wednesday, protesters shouted "murderer" and "executioner" and clashed with Nazi sympathisers as his coffin passed.

"We had to cancel the funeral yesterday because there was a risk that it could have become a neo-Nazi demonstration," said Mr Pecoraro.

Priebke's lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said it had been stopped because the authorities had prevented friends and family entering.

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