Alessandro Pertini, 93; Former Italian President

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"He wasn't just the president--he was our president," said one man drawn in respect to the historic fountain Sunday. "So close to his own people, so sincere and truthful, so different from most of the rest of the political world," chorused another.

The Italian government, which Pertini headed as president through trying times from 1978 to 1985, decreed two days of national mourning for the diminutive, pipe-smoking Socialist as his successor, President Francesco Cossiga, called on Pertini's 69-year-old widow, Clara, "in the name of all Italians."

An anti-Fascist hero of World War II whose democratic convictions were tried by jail and exile, Pertini assumed the largely ceremonial presidency when national confidence was shaken by urban terrorism, inflation and allegations of high-level political corruption.

"Sandro," as Pertini is universally known, was 81 when he became president as a compromise choice on the 15th ballot by a Parliament where he had served almost continuously since the war.

He was, as ever, a no-euphemisms politician, cautioning Italians not to underestimate him. "I am old," Pertini said, "but I am not blind, deaf or dumb."

Pertini refused to move into the presidential Qurinale Palace, preferring his downtown apartment. In a country obsessed with terrorist violence, he insisted on walking to work, stopping for coffee, exchanging the time of day with passers-by. He was a spontaneous, impetuous optimist who sometimes played fast and loose with vaguely defined presidential powers for what he judged to be the common good.

And although he gained a reputation for being a clearsighted, plain-spoken figure on the international matters, Pertini had little time for protocol.

One day, a police officer wounded in a shoot-out with bandits found Italy's president at his bedside within an hour after being admitted to the hospital. Three years after becoming president, Pertini proudly reckoned that he had spoken with 48,000 Italian young people.

Sandro Pertini was revered as the man who helped restore pride to a nation that beat terrorism through law and has emerged as one of the world's wealthiest democracies.

Pertini had been ailing since a fall in his apartment Feb. 1, when he struck his head against a radiator. He refused hospitalization, saying he wanted to die at home.

"Pertini did not suffer. After a light supper with his wife (on Saturday), he went to bed early and fell asleep. Around 8 p.m., when his wife went into his room to see him, he was already dead. He died in his sleep," said Dr. Alberto Ugolini, Pertini's physician and friend for decades.

Tributes arrived from the great and the small Sunday for a Ligurian lawyer who helped found the Italian Socialist Party after World War I, was driven into French exile by Fascism in the 1920s, later spent 11 years in prison, fought as a partisan leader against Nazi troops during World War II and escaped jail in 1943 to survive a death sentence imposed by the Nazis.

One message came from Pope John Paul II, who remembered his "warm friendship" with the agnostic Pertini, an encouraging visitor to the papal bedside as John Paul recovered from an assassination attempt in 1981.

Another tribute came from King Juan Carlos I of Spain, at whose side in Madrid a Pertini con molto brio , then 85, cavorted like a schoolboy while gleefully watching Italy's victory in the 1982 soccer World Cup.

In keeping with Sandro Pertini's wishes, there will be no state funeral. His remains will be cremated in Rome and then flown by presidential plane for burial at his hometown of Savona near Genoa.

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