Mock funeral mourns Venice's shrinking population

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VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - A procession of gondolas accompanied a pink coffin along Venice’s Grand Canal on Saturday in a mock funeral to protest against the steep decline in the city’s population.

Pall bearers in black capes accompanied the flower-draped coffin symbolizing the death of the “Queen of Adriatic” at the hands of rampant tourism, rising waters and housing costs, a low birth rate and a lack of services.

It was brought ashore at the city hall where a message of condolence and a poem in the Venetian dialect were read out.

As tourists and onlookers took photos and popped wine corks, a flag bearing the image of a phoenix emerged from the coffin to symbolize the rebirth of the threatened city.

The protest, organized by local website, was inspired by a report last month that the city’s population had fallen below 60,000, the minimum for an Italian city.

Venice’s population has halved since 1966 as residents have left to seek work elsewhere and housing costs have soared as homes have been converted into hotels or guest houses.

Taking advantage of the crowd gathered for the protest, researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the United States took saliva samples to identify authentic Venetians genetically, Ansa news agency reported.

Reporting by Manuel Silvestri; editing by Andrew Dobbie