ROME Italian police have arrested the head of a powerful Calabrian mafia clan who was listed among the country's 30 most dangerous fugitives.
Giovanni Tegano, on the run since 1993 and believed to be a high-profile member of the feared 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, was arrested near the southern city of Reggio Calabria late on Monday.
"His capture is the hardest blow that we could inflict today to the 'Ndrangheta as he was the number one Calabrian fugitive," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.
Highlighting the hurdles authorities face in their fight against the mafia, more than 100 of Tegano's supporters blocked a street outside a police station in Reggio Calabria on Tuesday to cheer the 70-year old as he was escorted by police officers into a waiting car to be driven to prison.
"Giovanni, man of peace!" shouted one woman, while others applauded. A relaxed-looking Tegano waved a cuffed hand to the crowd.
Tegano has been convicted in absentia to life in jail for murder, criminal association and arms trafficking.
"The applause for this fugitive ... was a serious incident," said Giuseppe Scopelliti, mayor of Reggio Calabria and governor of the Calabria region. "It was carried out by a tiny minority ... most citizens reject the authority of the bosses."
Long overshadowed by Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the 'Ndrangheta has emerged as Italy's most powerful crime syndicate, exercising a bloody grip on the lucrative drug trade from South America.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn and Silvia Aloisi, Editing by Lin Noueihed)