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Vatican policeman dies of gunshot wounds

A 25-year-old member of the Vatican's elite internal police force which guards the Pope died yesterday of gunshot wounds in an apparent suicide, the Vatican said.

It was the worst case of violence inside the Vatican walls since a triple murder-suicide in 1998, when a member of the Swiss Guard killed the corps' commandant and the commandant's wife and then turned his gun on himself.

The Vatican said Alessandro Benedetti was found in a bathroom in the barracks of the 150-member Gendarmes with a gunshot wound to the head in the early hours of yesterday and rushed to Holy Spirit hospital several blocks away.

He died about 90 minutes after he was found.

"The first indications are that the young man committed suicide," Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement, adding that Mr Benedetti had left a note which was with Vatican investigators.

The statement offered no details about possible motives but local Italian media quoted a family member as saying that Mr Benedetti had recently broken up with his girlfriend.

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