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Italy's Napolitano: a veteran political operator


Italy's Giorgio Napolitano, who at 87 has been called on to be president again to attempt to defuse an explosive political crisis, is a former communist with formidable political skills.

Napolitano engineered former European commissioner Mario Monti's rise to power after premier Silvio Berlusconi's ouster in 2011 and has tried to unite bickering politicians after inconclusive February elections.

His seven-year term has also seen the country's gravest economic recession since the post-war period and the challenges of a rapidly changing society that has become increasingly pessimistic.

If elected later on Saturday as now expected, he would be the first Italian president to receive a second mandate.

Napolitano is a former speaker of the lower house Chamber of Deputies, former life senator and former member of the European Parliament who has managed to stay above the political fray.

While the post of president in Italy is largely ceremonial, it takes on vital importance during times of political crisis when the president can help steer the formation of a new government.

The president alone also has the power to dissolve parliament and call early elections -- although this is not possible in the last six months of the mandates, as has been the case for Napolitano.

Born in Naples on June 29, 1925 into a family of intellectuals, Napolitano forged his political career during World War II when he took part in the resistance against Nazi and fascist troops, founding a communist group in 1942.

At the end of the war, in 1945, he became an official member of the Italian Communist Party, entered politics and was elected to parliament for the first time in 1953 after earning a law degree.

He quickly became a key party organiser as a member of the party's National Committee and was one of the most influential leaders of its reformist wing, although he notoriously supported the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956.

With the collapse of the USSR, the Italian Communist Party was officially disbanded in 1991 and the current Democratic Party is its main heir.

He was speaker of the lower house from 1992 to 1994, later becoming interior minister in Romano Prodi's first centre-left government between 1996 and 1998.

The following year he won a seat in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, serving as a left-wing MEP until 2004.

He was elected to the presidency in 2006 -- the first former communist to hold the post.

He has been married for nearly 60 years, and is father of two children.