ROME (Reuters) - Police arrested 12 mafia suspects on Tuesday in the southern town plagued by racial violence last week, in a swoop the interior minister said was the best response to organized crime’s exploitation of immigrants.
Police said they had dismantled the local clan in the town of Rosarno of the ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s most powerful mafia group, which operates out of the southern Calabria region.
They issued 17 warrants for mafia activity, including five for people already in prison on other charges.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni used the arrests to head off criticism of his handling of the violence, in which more than 50 people were injured in clashes between locals and African immigrants.
“This is the best answer we could give,” Maroni told parliament. “It is the proof that the state is present in Calabria and will not let up in hunting down the ‘Ndrangheta.”
The government evacuated most immigrants from Rosarno over the weekend, sending those without residence papers to centres from which they risk expulsion to their countries of origin, and helping others to leave the town to avoid attacks by residents.
The opposition attacked Maroni for saying the Rosarno violence was due to excessive “tolerance” of illegal immigration, and some media commentators, including the Vatican newspaper, said racism was on the rise in Italy.
Some 8,000 illegal immigrants work in Calabria, most as day laborers picking fruit and vegetables, and critics say authorities turn a blind eye until it stops being politically convenient to do so.
Many live in abandoned factories with no running water or electricity and human rights groups say they are exploited by the ‘Ndrangheta.
Protesters in central Rome carried oranges covered in fake blood to symbolize the violence toward immigrants and their exploitation in Italy’s citrus fruit harvests.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said the Rosarno incident showed “religious and racial discrimination and hatred of foreigners,” and called on the international community to respond.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the violence was “unacceptable” but had no religious motives.