Tributes pour in following death of EU parliament president David Sassoli

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Tributes from European representatives have emerged following the death of the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, early Tuesday in Italy.

"David Sassoli passed away at 1.15 am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano, Italy, where he was hospitalized," his spokesman Roberto Cuillo tweeted.

"The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours."

Shortly afterwards, the secretary for European foreign affairs, Frenchman Clément Beaune paid tribute to Sassoli on social media. "A fighter for Europe, a sincere and courageous defender of democracy and the values of our Union," he wrote.

"European, sincere and passionate; we already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness, his smile," president of the European Council Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.

'Riposa in pace'

The 65-year-old former television newsreader had been in hospital since 26 December due to "a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system," Cuillo had said on Monday, announcing the cancellation of Sassoli's official activities.

Sassoli was previously admitted with pneumonia for several weeks last September.

"I am deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian," wrote EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen.

"David Sassoli was a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend. My thoughts are with his family. Riposa in pace, caro David!"

From journalist to politician

Born on 30 May, 1956, in Florence, Italy, Sassoli had a three-decade career as a journalist, starting out in newspapers then moving to television and becoming a nationally known anchor.

He became a member of the European Parliament in 2009, and speaker in 2019.

He was a member of the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-biggest grouping in the parliament after the centre-right European People's Party.

Although his role was that of speaker, he had the title of president of the European legislature. His arrival in the chamber was traditionally announced in Italian as "Il Presidente".

Unlike some EU officials, who speak in English and French in public appearances, Sassoli had made a point of using Italian.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he earned a reputation for his generosity and solidarity, allowing for unused office buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg to be turned into centres for people in need, be it meals for the homeless, shelters for women, or Covid testing sites.

Democracy loses a champion

The European Parliament sits for a five-year term between elections, but the president of the body serves for half that time.

Sassoli had already indicated that he would not seek re-election.

On Tuesday next week, MEPs are expected to hold the first round of voting for his successor.

MEP from Malta, Roberta Metsola, now acting president of the parliament, and most likely to take over, said "her heart was broken".

"Europe has lost a leader, I've lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion."

(with wires)

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