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New Rome mayor cracks down on 'beach mafia'

Rome's Mayor Ignazio Marino adjusts his helmet as he leaves by his electric bicycle after his meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, July 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

ROME (Reuters) - Rome’s newly elected mayor has launched a campaign to wrest the capital’s seaside suburb of Ostia out of the hands of mafia gangs thought to control its coveted beaches, where thousands of Romans flock each summer to escape the city heat.

Mayor Ignazio Marino announced that permits to charge for access to the sea in return for a sun lounger - a system that controls much of Italy’s coastline - would no longer be awarded by the Ostia local council after it was raided by police on suspicion it was under the influence of organised crime.

“In recent years, the Roman coast has become fertile ground for criminal activities, the scene of bloody clashes between clans and criminal gangs who seek to control important parts of the city’s economy,” Ignazio Marino, the centre-left mayor elected last month, said in a press release.

“Our administration has decided from the outset to react very firmly... to fight the underworld infiltration.”

On Monday, police raided the town hall’s permit office, seizing documents and placing a worker and local contractors under investigation on suspicion of rigging bids for beach contracts in favour of the Spada mafia clan.

Marino said the director and manager of the permit office would be dismissed, and announced that permits to manage Ostia’s coastline would be allocated directly from his office in Rome.

The investigation into mob activities on Rome’s coast intensified after the broad daylight murder of Francesco “Little Moustache” Antonini and Giovanni “Black Rat” Galleoni, who were gunned down in front of bars and restaurants on a busy street metres (yards) from the sandy beach in 2011.

As part of the crackdown, police last week swooped on suspected members of the Spada clan, arresting one man for the murder of Antonini and Galleoni, who were former affiliates of the Rome-based criminal organisation Banda della Magliana, according to daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Reporting by Naomi O’Leary; Editing by Michael Roddy