Thousands throng cathedral square for Fiat king’s funeral

THOUSANDS gathered in the square outside Turin’s 15th century cathedral yesterday for the funeral of Fiat king Gianni Agnelli, many having waited overnight to catch a glimpse of the billionaire tycoon’s coffin.

Applause greeted the hearse of Mr Agnelli, who had symbolised the glamour and promise of Italy’s post-war rebirth, mingling with the world’s movers and shakers from John F. Kennedy to Muammar Gaddafi. “You see in this piazza, in this city and in all the world the respect commanded by this man, who left a mark not just in the economic world but also personally,” said Walter Gaia, a 50-year-old technician at one of Fiat’s biggest factories.

“Without him I don’t know what would have become of this city and of Italy,” Mr Gaia added as he watched the funeral ceremony from behind barricades.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi were greeted at the doors of the flower-decked cathedral by Umberto Agnelli, in line to take over the chairmanship of the Fiat empire his brother built.

With white and purple-robed priests heading the procession, Mr Agnelli’s coffin was carried into the church by Senate officers and Fiat guards. John Elkann, the grandson tipped to be Fiat’s future, and other relatives followed solemnly behind.

Turin’s Cardinal Severino Poletto told the congregation of Italy’s political, business and sporting elite to remember “the grand passion of a entrepreneur who gave work to many people, bringing progress and well-being to so many families”. And he pleaded for the future of Fiat, which under Mr Agnelli grew from a family car company into an empire that stretched from racing cars to vineyards to newspapers, but is now struggling with its gravest crisis.

“He made no mystery of the fact that he believed that now, as always, the crisis could be overcome,” he said. “We hope his wishes are realised.”

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