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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Mafia strike leaves Italy cold
Salvatore 'Toto' Riina
The "boss of bosses" was arrested for murder in 1993
The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has said there will be no change to the tough prison regime which has led Mafia bosses to declare a hunger strike.

Some 300 Mafia prisoners have been refusing food since last week, calling for an end to isolation conditions under which they can receive only one telephone call and one visit per month.


The government will do what it has to do and will not be intimidated by anyone's message

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
On Friday, convicted mafia boss Leoluca Bagarella broke years of silence to read out an enigmatic statement in court which was interpreted in Italy as a veiled threat to the government.

It sparked concerns that the Mafia was set to renew the bloody campaign it carried out against prosecutors in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I believe this is a very clear and explicit stance which reveals this government's intention to fight organised crime in such a way that someone who belongs to one of those organisations cannot bring his power into jail," Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency.

Curtailed activity

The protest began at Marino del Trento, the island prison in northern Italy where the "boss of bosses" Salvatore "Toto" Riina - and Bagarella's brother-in-law - is serving his sentence.

Restrictions
One family visit a month
One phone call a month
No contact with fellow inmates from same organisation
Two hours a day of open-air exercise

It then spread to three other high-security jails.

Apart from refusing prison food, the inmates have been constantly banging the metalwork of their cells.

They have written to the Italian Justice Ministry demanding the amendment of the provisions of Article 41 Bis - the piece of legislation introduced in 1992 to prevent Mafia bosses from continuing to direct criminal activities from their cells.

The law comes up for renewal every year and the government is considering extending it for four years, with some members of parliament saying it should become permanent.

See also:

09 Jul 02 | Europe
07 Aug 01 | Europe
30 Jan 01 | Europe
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