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Victims 'shining like stars' as Italy inaugurates new Genoa bridge

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Genoa (Italy) (AFP)

Italy inaugurated a sleek new bridge in Genoa on Monday, though relatives of the 43 people killed when the old viaduct collapsed said the pomp and ceremony risked overshadowing the tragedy.

Jets trailing the colours of the Italian flag roared overhead and ship sirens sounded in the coastal city's port, almost two years to the day the Morandi highway gave way during heavy rain, hurling dozens of cars and several trucks onto railway tracks below.

As a rainbow appeared in the sky, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte cut the ribbon on the new bridge, designed by famed Italian architect Renzo Piano, who gave it a curved, gleaming underbelly evoking the hull of a ship in tribute to Genoa's maritime history.

"Forty-three stars will shine every night on high," he said, as lamps along the bridge, numbered for the victims, lit up.

The names of the victims were read aloud -- though many of their loved ones were not present.

"We won't be at the inauguration, we don't want the tragedy to be transformed into a carnival," Egle Possetti, whose sister died in the August 14, 2018 disaster along with her husband and their two children, said ahead of the ceremony.

"You can have this sort of big party if you knock down the bridge because it's old, you build a new one, and no one's died."

The Morandi bridge had been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance, and its collapse threw the spotlight on Italy's creaking infrastructure.

The tragedy also ended the longstanding concession of highway maintenance by a company majority-owned by the powerful Benetton family.

The new high-tech structure will have four maintenance robots running along its length to spot weathering or erosion, as well as a special dehumidification system to limit corrosion.

It is expected to open to traffic on Tuesday or Wednesday.

- 'Born of tragedy' -

Architect Piano, a Genoa native whose building designs include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and The Shard in London, described his new creation as a "child born of tragedy, of mourning".

"We are suspended between grief and pride", he said.

Conte has hailed the new viaduct "a sign of rebirth".

But Possetti, who is a spokeswoman for a victims' relatives group, said she would "never cross that bridge".

"How could you be there and not think of everything that happened, and that destroyed your family," she told AFP.

The Morandi was hailed a marvel of engineering when it opened in 1967, but an investigation into the disaster found it was neglected.

Autostrade, which runs almost half of Italy's motorway network, has been accused of failing to maintain it properly, amid allegations of falsified safety reports and in-house pressure to slash maintenance costs.

Atlantia, the parent group of Autostrade, is controlled by the wealthy Benetton family, which finally bowed to pressure last month to relinquish control of its besmirched toll-road operator, which will be nationalised.

Roberto Battiloro, father of a young videomaker who died along with three friends, said the families were "still waiting for justice".

"That bridge should not have collapsed, and someone has to pay," he said on Facebook on Monday.

Autostrade is under investigation, along with several transport ministry officials, for culpable homicide.

The preliminary probe is due to wind up in October, before a trial begins early next year, Possetti said.

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