Italian town seeks to ban Nazi war criminal's funeral

ROME (AFP) - A town near Rome on Tuesday tried to ban the celebration of a Nazi war criminal's funeral by a Catholic traditionalist group on its territory.

The mayor of Albano Laziale, Mr Nicola Marini, signed a decree banning former SS officer Erich Priebke's body from being transported through the town.

Meanwhile the hearse set off from Rome carrying the coffin of Priebke, who died last week aged 100 while living under house arrest for a 1944 massacre of 335 people at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.

The ceremony for the unrepentant Priebke was due to be held on Tuesday at a seminary of the Society of St Pius X in the town, Italian media reported.

"We have a public order problem that is being created. Our town has a tradition of resistance partisans. We are shocked," Mr Luca Faenza, a spokesman for local mayor Nicola Marini, told AFP.

A small protest quickly gathered outside the seminary and there were scuffles with police.

"Priebke Hangman" read a banner at the protest while one man shouted: "Take him to the landfill!" The reports did not say where Priebke might be buried, amid fears that the site could become a rallying point for extremist 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 and the Vatican has banned any Catholic church in Rome from celebrating the funeral.

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.

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