ALBANO, Italy (AFP) - Catholic breakaway traditionalists held a funeral for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke in a town near Rome on Tuesday as hundreds of angry protesters outside shouted "Assassin!" and "Hangman!"
The ultra-conservative Society of St Pius X in Albano began a private ceremony in Latin with family present for the unrepentant former SS officer - but it had to be interrupted when far-right sympathisers broke into their compound.
Rome prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro, who is responsible for public order, issued a police order banning the group from entering the chapel, at which point the funeral priest left, Italian media reported.
The pro-Nazis had been shouting: "He was a hero!" Some 500 protesters outside the compound earlier banged on the hearse carrying Priebke's coffin as it was driven through gates into the seminary from a Rome morgue as dozens of riot police pushed back.
Priebke died last week aged 100 while living under house arrest in Rome for a 1944 massacre of 335 people, including 75 Jews, at the Ardeatine caves near the city in retaliation for a partisan attack.
The Holocaust denier, who claimed he was only following Gestapo orders, has caused uproar even in death with an international controversy over his funeral and final resting place.
Protesters and far-right activists in Albano clashed after a group shouting fascist slogans demanded to be allowed to take part.
Local mayor Nicola Marini issued a last-minute decree to prevent the hearse from crossing his town's territory saying it had been a centre of the partisan resistance during World War II but the ruling was struck down by the Rome prefecture.
'Take him to the landfill'
A priest from the Society of St Pius X had to be protected by police as he tried to enter the seminary after being shoved by the protesters.
"Take him to the landfill!" one man shouted as the black hearse passed through the crowd, while others sang the Italian partisan song Bella Ciao and held up a banner reading "Priebke Hangman".
"This is a moment of mourning and has nothing to do with politics. We have done our best to respect the feelings of his critics," Priebke's lawyer Paolo Giachini told reporters before the funeral.
Don Floriano Abrahamowicz, a St Pius X priest, defended the decision to host the funeral, telling Radio 24 that "Priebke was a friend of mine, a Christian, a faithful soldier." "His was the only case of an innocent man behind bars. It's a scandal how he was persecuted in Italy while immigrants are received with dignity."
But Albano's mayor, from the leftist Democratic Party, said he was "shocked" and had not been warned about the controversial funeral.
"We are absolutely against this event," he said.
Tensions are running particularly high in the Italian capital as Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of a raid by Nazi troops that cleared out the city's historic Jewish quarter.
The funeral coincided with a silent procession through the Rome Ghetto in honour of the more than 1,000 Jews who were taken away to concentration camps - of whom only 16 came back alive.
Confusion reigned as to whether the funeral would be completed and whether Priebke's body would return to Rome.
Reports suggested authorities wanted him cremated, amid fears a burial could become a rallying point for far-right groups.
Argentina, where Priebke lived for nearly 50 years before being extradited to Italy and where he wanted to be buried, has refused to take the body.
The Vatican also issued an unprecedented ban on celebrating the funeral in any Catholic church in Rome, although it said that a priest could officiate a private ceremony at home.
Jewish groups and relatives of the massacre victims have said the body should be cremated and the ashes scattered to erase his memory forever.
The Society of St Pius X is a Catholic conservative group that broke off from the Vatican in 1970 over opposition to reforms and is often accused of far-right and anti-Semitic leanings.
Priebke escaped from a British POW camp in Italy immediately after World War II and was supplied with Vatican travel documents by a Nazi-sympathising Catholic bishop.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 1998.
Because of his age and ill-health he was allowed to serve out his life sentence at home.