Marco Pannella, maverick Italian post-war politician, dies aged 86
Marco Pannella, the maverick radical politician who was crucial to Italian post-war campaigns to legalise abortion and other social change, has died aged 86.
Radio Radicale, the radio station of Mr Pannella's Radical Party, announced the death on Thursday. Mr Pannella, who was known for his frequent hunger strikes, anti-church positions and sit-ins, had been in hospital at a Rome clinic in recent days.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi described the veteran politician as a "lion of freedom".
Mr 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 legalise divorce and abortion.
On the international stage, the cigar-smoking activist was also 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.
Mr Pannella, who served several stints as a European parliamentarian, had been diagnosed in recent years with tumours in his lung and liver, and had frequent hospital stays due to his hunger strikes.
Vatican spokesman, Reverend Federico Lombardi said that despite his anti-church positions, Mr Pannella had a great fondness for Pope Francis and their shared concern for upholding the rights of prisoners.
Francis, in fact, sent Mr 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," Mr Lombardi said, adding that Mr Pannella had frequently told him of his esteem for the Jesuit pope.
Italy's atheists, meanwhile, praised Mr 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.