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Francesco Cossiga, veteran Italian politician, dies at 82

When Moro's bullet-ridden body was found in the trunk of a car parked in downtown Rome -- symbolically left in a street equidistant from the headquarters of the Christian Democrats and those of the Communists -- Mr. Cossiga resigned.

"I'm politically dead," he was quoted as saying.

But he defended the government's refusal to negotiate the exchange of prisoners demanded by the Red Brigades, saying that was a policy espoused by Moro.

"I contributed to carrying it out with conviction, loyalty and firmness, even if with an understandable tumult of human feelings," Mr. Cossiga said.

After a brief stint as premier in 1979-80, Mr. Cossiga was elected by Parliament as president of the republic in 1985, and he again faced tempestuous times.

The political system that had emerged in Italy after World War II, crippled by corruption and perennial compromise among coalition partners, was struggling to survive. It would soon collapse under kickback scandals of the early 1990s, which swept the Christian Democrats from power and led to the rise of new political forces, including media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's populist movement and the anti-establishment Northern League party.

Mr. Cossiga assailed the old system with a vehemence and directness that was unprecedented for an Italian head of state. Supporters said he wanted to spur reform; opponents thought he was overstepping the boundaries of his mandate.

Calls for his resignation increased after disclosures about Gladio, a guerrilla network coordinated by NATO across Europe to organize resistance in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion. In Italy, there was speculation of Gladio's links to a series of unsolved right-wing terrorist attacks in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mr. Cossiga denounced his critics as traitors. To foes in the former Communist Party, which at that point had changed its name, he sent a more pointed message: chunks of the Berlin Wall.

Eventually, he stepped down as president, leaving his post in April 1992 with two months left in his seven-year term. The kickback scandals were beginning to unfold.

In a dramatic televised speech, Mr. Cossiga said he was "alone" and a "very weak man." But as a senator for life, an honor granted all former presidents, Mr. Cossiga remained vocal for years, even as his clout diminished.

His marriage to the former Giuseppa Sigurani ended in divorce. Survivors include their two children.

-- Associated Press

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