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Former Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti dies

Giulio Andreotti personified the nation he helped shape -- the good and the bad.

One of Italy's most important postwar figures, he helped draft the country's constitution after World War II, served seven times as premier and spent 60 years in Parliament.

But the Christian Democrat who was friends with popes and cardinals was also a controversial figure who survived corruption scandals and allegations of aiding the Mafia: Andreotti was accused of exchanging a "kiss of honor" with the mob's longtime No. 1 boss and was indicted in what was called "the trial of the century" in Palermo.

He was eventually cleared, but his legacy was forever marred.

Still clinging to his last official title, senator-for-life, Andreotti died yesterday at age 94 after an extended period of poor health that included a hospitalization for a heart ailment.

Andreotti grew more stooped with age, and infirmity kept him from what few official duties remained, such as opening the inaugural session of the new Senate in March, a privilege reserved for the eldest-serving member that fell this time to the next in line.

Andreotti, a key player in the now-defunct Christian Democratic Party that dominated politics for nearly half a century, helped bring prosperity to what was once one of Europe's poorest countries. When a corruption scandal flushed out the old political guard in the 1990s, marking the end of the first Italian Republic, he survived.

But he lost political clout after he became a senator-for-life in 1991, an appointment that freed him from electoral cycles but also deprived him of capital in the backroom deal-making that helped create his reputation as a Machiavellian politician.

And so, Italy entered the so-called second republic, characterized by stalemates and infighting, and dominated by other parties and other men, such as Silvio Berlusconi.

Arguably among Italy's most important statesmen, having also served eight times as defense minister and five times as foreign minister, Andreotti will be buried with a small private Mass, not a state funeral befitting of his contributions to the nation. The choice was made by his family, according to Italian media, and is perhaps a reflection of his mixed legacy.

The condolences that flowed in also underscored Italy's uncertain judgment on a figure who dominated discourse for decades.

In announcing the death, Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno called Andreotti "the most representative politician" Italy had known in its recent history. Pier Ferdinando Casini, a centrist political leader, said he was certain that "history will give this statesman a more sober and serious opinion than his detractors made during his life." President Giorgio Napolitano, at 87 a contemporary of Andreotti, said history would judge his career but he wanted to extend a national salute to a man who represented Italy overseas and in Europe with "exceptional" skill.

Andreotti's rise in the Italian political scene mirrored the rise of Italy, which was emerging from two decades of fascist dictatorship under Benito Mussolini. He joined the conservative Christian Democrats, was part of the assembly that wrote the constitution and was elected to Parliament in 1948.

He remained there ever since.

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