ROME (AFP) — Thousands of mourners joined in calls for justice at the funeral Wednesday of young Italian football fan Gabriele Sandri, shot dead by a policeman.
Among them was World Cup winner Francesco Totti, who embraced the parents of the 28-year-old Lazio fan, slain on Sunday, before taking his place in the church.
The atmosphere was tense as the mourners, mostly young people, filled the square outside San Pio X church in Balduina, the northwestern district of Rome where Sandri lived.
Many had tears in their eyes as they chanted "Justice, Justice!" and "Gabriele Is With Us."
"He was young, and a fan like me. I couldn't not be here," said one mourner who gave his name as Valerio. "This tragedy is absurd, it could have happened to anyone."
A cheer went up as Sandri's coffin arrived for the funeral, three days after he was shot dead as police were intervening in a scuffle between rival supporters, an incident that sparked violence across Italy.
"We demand justice and truth, and quickly," parish priest Paolo Tammi said in his homily.
"And we ask it of the institutions present here. We ask them to act quickly because then even forgiveness will come, gradually," he said, to loud applause.
"Gabriele was not violent. He was a calm and serene young man. And that it why I ask you, young people, to stop the violence," Tammi said.
Speaking at the end of the ceremony, Sandri's brother Cristiano addressed Gabriele, saying: "See how people have come in large numbers for you, how they love you. Your smile will never be erased."
Some two dozen wreaths, including one from Italian police chief Antonio Manganelli, were laid in the square under a light rain.
The crowd, including mourners from across Italy, applauded again when members of the Lazio team arrived for the ceremony along with Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni and Infrastructure Minister Antonio Di Pietro.
Amid fears of new violence, Sandri's parents requested that police stay away from the funeral, and none were seen in the area.
Sandri's death at a highway rest area sparked violent clashes between football supporters and security forces in several Italian cities, particularly Rome and Milan.
The police officer is under investigation for manslaughter, while Sandri's family has described the shooting death as murder.
Vincenzo Giacobbe, police chief of the central city of Arezzo near where Sandri was killed, said tougher charges might be laid, with numerous witnesses saying the policeman had "probably" aimed at the tyres of the car Sandri was in.
The policeman said that he accidentally fired the fatal shot as he was running, just seconds after firing a warning round in the air.
"The policeman's gunshot was a man's mistake. Football has nothing to do with it," a former high school classmate of Sandri's told AFP at the funeral.
Another young football fan said however: "It's a normal reaction to be furious. There's hatred, rage after what happened."
Italian police have made 25 arrests in the wake of the shooting death, while football authorities suspended second and third division matches; first division matches are unaffected since none were scheduled this weekend.
At least 40 police required hospital treatment after the running battles in several cities on Sunday which newspapers dubbed the return of the "nightmare" of hooliganism.
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato called the fatal shooting a "tragic error."
Italy's sports security watchdog announced that football fans identified as violent would no longer be allowed to travel in groups.
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