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State funeral for Italian soldiers

Italians have paid their last respects to six soldiers killed in the Afghan capital Kabul last week in a state funeral at a prominent Rome basilica.

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President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his cabinet ministers and other top government and military officials attended the funeral at Saint Paul Outside the Walls under grey skies.

Some 50 of the fallen paratroopers’ comrades bore the flag-draped coffins into the basilica as mourners applauded in typical Italian tradition.

Flags were at half-staff as the nation marked a second day of mourning for the six killed last Thursday in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Four other paratroopers who were wounded in the attack attended the ceremony at the basilica where dozens of floral wreaths had been laid.

Flag-waving mourners line streets

Thousands of people waving flags lined the deserted streets as trucks bearing the coffins made their way to the basilica.

A fly-past trailing the national colours of green, white and red was planned later Monday.

The attack, the worst for Italian troops serving abroad since a blast in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on November 12, 2003, left 19 dead, unleashed a wave of grief across the nation.

Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.

The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.

Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels – 357 this year according to icasualties.org – and the mounting number of body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.