(Note strong language in fifth paragraph)
By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, victim of a deadly attack by Islamist militants in 2015 for its irreverent humor, was criticized by Italians on Friday for portraying victims of an earthquake that killed almost 300 people as different types of pasta.
The cartoon was titled "Earthquake Italian style". It depicted a balding man standing and covered in blood with the moniker "Penne in tomato sauce", a badly scratched up woman next to him labeled "Penne au gratin", and finally feet sticking out between the floors of a collapsed building titled "Lasagne".
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Amatrice, a town flattened by last week's quake, is famous for the pasta sauce -- amatriciana -- that carries its name.
The town's mayor, Sergio Pirozzi, who dramatically declared "the town is gone" on the morning after the Aug. 24 earthquake, was baffled by the cartoon.
"How the fuck do you draw a cartoon about the dead!" he said, according to state news agency Ansa. "I'm sure this unpleasant and embarrassing satire does not reflect French sentiment."
The French embassy in Rome published a statement on its web site and Twitter, saying the cartoon "absolutely does not represent" France's position, and is a "caricature by the press (and) the freely expressed opinions are those of the journalists."
While many Italians showed solidarity with the magazine after the 2015 attack, writing "Je suis Charlie Hebdo" (I am Charlie Hebdo) on social media, the cartoon in the magazine's current edition was called "terrible", "in bad taste", and "disrespectful" on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.
Many just wrote, "I'm no longer Charlie Hebdo."
Twelve people were killed in the January 2015 attack by gunmen accusing the journal of blasphemy in printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has not commented, but other Italian politicians pulled no punches. Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, said: "This isn't satire; it's garbage."
Charlie Hebdo responded to the controversy by publishing yet another earthquake cartoon on its Facebook page that refers to the fact that in the past organized crime has been found to control various Italian construction companies.
The follow-up vignette portrays someone half-buried in the rubble and reads: "Italians, it's not Charlie Hebdo who has built your homes, it's the mafia!"
(Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; editing by Ralph Boulton)