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Berlusconi defends deployment against Mafia

October 2, 2008

By Guy Dinmore, reporting from Caserta and Naples

Published: October 2 2008

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s centre-right prime minister, on Wednesday defended his government’s controversial decision to deploy 500 soldiers in the Naples region in what his interior minister has called a “civil war” with the Mafia.

“The state will intervene with its strength and authority to defend the rights of citizens. No criminal organisation or minority can stop us,” Mr Berlusconi told a news conference on his ninth visit to Naples since returning to office in May.

Officials said the soldiers were ready to deploy from barracks in Caserta, a stronghold of the Camorra criminal organisation to the north of Naples, once Giorgio Napolitano, the president, had signed the government decree.

One of their first duties will be to set up checkpoints on the road to Castelvolturno, along the coast from Naples, where six Ghanaian immigrants were killed near the Ob Ob launderette by suspected Mafia hitmen on September 18.

Mr Berlusconi congratulated the security forces involved in a big operation early on Tuesday against the Casalesi, one of the main Camorra clans, which resulted in the arrests of about 30 wanted mobsters, including three of the suspected Castelvolturno killers. Police said the raids also netted €100m ($141m, £79m) in Mafia assets.

Their most significant seizure was a computer disc allegedly detailing millions of euros of income from kickbacks from companies, local authorities and officials, and €5m a year in payments to associates and families of jailed mobsters. Newspapers published the names of three prominent local politicians from ruling and opposition parties alleged by a Mafia turncoat to have connections with organised crime.

“We will go on until the end,” Mr Berlusconi said, an army general by his side.

His cabinet has portrayed Tuesday’s raid and the use of the army as reflecting the government’s newfound determination to respond to the growing challenge of organised crime.

The Italian army has been used on occasion before to combat the Mafia, but critics of Mr Berlusconi are sceptical that his government is serious in its new campaign.

One local editor, who asked not to be named, said that deploying the army was just for public show. “It is years and years of intelligence that catches the Mafia, not soldiers at checkpoints,” he said.

Manuella Borretti, a trade union activist for the left-wing CGIL federation in Caserta, said that she was concerned that Roberto Maroni, the interior minister from the xenophobic Northern League, was more intent on using the military to crack down on illegal immigration.

“The state has been absent from here for a long time,” she said. “The army cannot correct this. This is a show for the media.”

In the absence of an effective state, illegal immigration has become rife around Naples, where many work for the Camorra on the land and in factories. Ms Borretti said that the government needed social policies, not a crackdown, noting that a recent law threatening the confiscation of property rented out to illegal immigrants only had the effect of driving up prices and their level of desperation

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