Reuters International

Italy's Five Star Movement co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio waves to supporters during an election campaign for European Elections in Rome in this May 23, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Files

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ROME (Reuters) - The co-founder of Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), which fed off anger over the European financial crisis to become Italy's second largest party, died on Tuesday, his long-time collaborator Beppe Grillo said.

A web developer and strategist who seldom appeared in public, Gianroberto Casaleggio masterminded most of the strategy for M5S, which pioneered what it said was direct democracy, using online ballots to decide strategy and select candidates.

He created and curated the hugely successful blog through which Grillo, initially the movement's main public face, communicates with his supporters.

Grillo bid goodbye to the 61-year-old Casaleggio on the blog, saying he had "fought until the end", and quoting a letter the strategist had written to a newspaper in 2012.

"I am an ordinary citizen who tries, with his work and his (small) means, without any public or private contribution, to improve the society in which he lives, sometimes deluding himself, sometimes even getting it wrong."

It was not immediately clear what Casaleggio had died of, but he was admitted to hospital with a brain condition in 2014 and last week acknowledged having long-term health problems.

His wispy shoulder-length hair, round spectacles and fervent belief in the power of the Internet to change the world prompted many to caricature him as a dreamy visionary, but many who knew him said he was practical, single-minded and determined.

"He was a man of extraordinary knowledge, " said Nobel prize-winning writer Dario Fo, a vocal M5S supporter.

"He often said he wasn't in a position to pass judgement on some topics, and this shows a modesty, a humility that is difficult to find in the usual political environment."

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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