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Thousands flock to Agnelli funeral

Widow Donna Marella Agnelli (left) , flanked by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, follows the coffin.
Widow Donna Marella Agnelli (left) , flanked by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, follows the coffin.

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TURIN, Italy -- Thousands have lined Turin's cobbled streets for the funeral of Italian business king Gianni Agnelli after many waited overnight to catch a glimpse of the billionaire industrialist's coffin.

Waves of applause greeted the hearse of Agnelli, glamorous head of Fiat, Forumla One giants Ferrari and the mighty Juventus soccer club, who had symbolised the glamour and promise of Italy's post-war regeneration.

"He was the centre of everyone's attention for half a century for his prestige and also for his qualities as a great entrepreneur," Turin's Cardinal Severino Poletto said in the northern city's cathedral, whose congregation included faces from Italy's political, business and sporting elite.

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.

Gianni Agnelli, who died on Friday aged 81 after a long battle with cancer, oversaw the growth of Fiat from a family car company into an empire that stretched from racing cars to vineyards to newspapers.

Dubbed "the lawyer," he was best known abroad for growing Fiat into a global conglomerate and steering it through business crises, union unrest and terror attacks over 40 years.

For Italians he was a Prince Charming. Many of the tens of thousands who waited overnight in the cold to see his coffin at Fiat's Lingotto factory said it was his great charisma they had come to honour.

Mourners pay their last respects at the billionaire industrialist's coffin.
Mourners pay their last respects at the billionaire industrialist's coffin.

On Saturday Formula One champion driver Michael Schumacher had joined Fiat factory workers, top businessmen, sporting stars and union leaders to pay their last respects.

A billionaire with a sense of style, Agnelli's patrician fashion quirks -- such as wearing his wristwatch on the outside of his shirt cuff -- were copied by a nation of young men.

Fiat's glory years turned the sleepy city of Turin into a boom town, whose population mushroomed as thousands fled Italy's impoverished south in search of a better life.

Agnelli's business legacy was more troubled. Fiat expanded across the world, but then its car operations in such key markets as the United States took a battering, and efforts to diversify failed to offset slumping sales and widening losses at the auto unit.


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