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Many of Italy’s elite turn out for ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s state funeral in Milan

MILAN (AP) – Italy’s political, business and football elite bade farewell to former Premier Silvio Berlusconi with a state funeral inside Milan’s imposing Duomo cathedral on Wednesday, while thousands of ordinary admirers and football fans waved banners and chanted in the piazza outside.

It was a fitting send-off for a man who made billions as a media mogul, upended the Italian political system as three-time premier and championed two winning football clubs.

But even as Italians overwhelmingly agree that Berlusconi has left the greatest mark on Italy over four decades of business and politics, not all think it was for the best. It was a judgement that shadowed him even in death, as both his legacy and the pomp surrounding his funeral were hotly debated.

AC Milan flags wave in the crowd as the hearse carrying former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi’s casket prepares to leave at the end of his state funeral in Milan, Italy, PHOTO: AP

Milan Archbishop Mario Delpini didn’t gloss over Berlusconi’s complicated legacy in his punchy eulogy, saying he was a businessman who found success and failure, a politician who won and lost, and a notoriety-seeking personality who had admirers and detractors, “those who applaud him and those who detest him”.

“But in this moment of farewell and prayer, what can we say about Silvio Berlusconi? He has been a man: a desire for life, a desire for love, a desire for joy,” Delpini said. “He is a man, and now he meets the creator.”

The pews were filled with three ex-premiers, none of them Berlusconi allies; Italy’s president, Premier Giorgia Meloni, whose government relies on the support of Berlusconi’s party, along with their third coalition partner, League leader Matteo Salvini and a host of ministers past and present. Captains of industry also paid their respects, as did representatives from the football world he loved.

With Berlusconi out of power for more than a decade, just two heads of government attended the funeral: Hungarian President Viktor Orban and Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

One of his closest remaining allies on the international scene, Russian President Vladimir Putin, offered heartfelt condolences from Moscow. Other nations sent ambassadors to the funeral organised just two days following his death Monday after being hospitalized for treatment of chronic leukemia.