EU and Italian leaders led mourners Friday at the state funeral in Rome of David Sassoli, the head of the European Parliament who died earlier this week aged 65.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel were among those who paid their respects to the former Italian journalist and longtime MEP.

Pallbearers carried Sassoli's casket, draped in the blue European Union flag, into the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, flanked by a guard of honour.

Thousands of people had queued on Thursday to say goodbye as Sassoli's body lay in state at the Capitoline Hill in Rome, surrounded by wreaths.

Others attending the funeral Friday included French Prime Minister Jean Castex, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez and outgoing Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

The Catholic service, attended by only around 300 people due to coronavirus rules, was broadcast live on RAI public television, under the headline, "Ciao David".

Sassoli died in the early hours of Tuesday in a hospital in northern Italy where he had been admitted on December 26 for what his spokesman had said was "a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system".

Von der Leyen described it as a "sad day for Europe", while Draghi hailed him as a "profound pro-European... a symbol of balance, humanity and generosity".

On Friday, Castex told AFP Sassoli was "a great European", adding: "I was extremely shocked at the brutality, the speed of his death."

Sassoli's 2.5-year term presiding over Europe's legislative body was due to end this month.

The parliament's acting speaker is now its highest-ranking vice-president, Roberta Metsola, a Maltese politician who was already tipped to succeed Sassoli.