Thousands in Italy rally against the mafia

BARI, Italy Sat Mar 15, 2008 1:06pm EDT

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BARI, Italy (Reuters) - Thousands of Italians marched on Saturday in an anti-mafia protest and called on all citizens to take a public stand against Italy's powerful crime syndicates.

Crying openly and shouting "Basta!" (Enough!), politicians and anti-mafia leaders made emotional appeals against keeping silent and read out the names of people assassinated by the mafia.

Many at the rally in the southern city of Bari held up pictures of relatives gunned down by members of organized crime.

"The mafia has not been defeated and above all the incurable ill of turning a blind eye needs to be defeated," said Enzo Longo, the mayor of the Sicilian town of Capaci best known for the 1992 killing of a judge and his entourage by the mafia.

The founder of anti-mafia group Libera, Don Luigi Ciotti, led the march holding a small piano flute that belonged to an 11-year-old boy strangled 15 years ago by the mafia, who then left his body to dissolve in a tub of acid.

Organizers said 100,000 people took part in the march but there were no official estimates.

Italy's government says it has inflicted major blows on the Sicilian mafia with the arrests of several high-profile suspects in recent months. Young Sicilians have also been leading efforts to openly reject calls to pay "pizzo" or protection money.

But a February report by a parliamentary commission on the mafia warned the Calabrian version of the mafia, called the 'Ndrangheta, had become an increasingly powerful and sophisticated organization, comparing it to al Qaeda.

(Reporting by Elisa Forte; Writing by Deepa Babington)

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