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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 18:14 GMT
Italian judge orders Mafia sweep
Italian policeman (archive)
Police in Italy have made a series of anti-Mafia arrests
Anti-Mafia judges have ordered the arrest of 52 people suspected of having links to extortion and money-laundering rackets in a southern region of Italy.

An MP from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Gianfranco Blasi, denied the accusations after he was named among the suspects.

Other suspects include high-profile businessmen and regional politicians.

The suspects are accused of colluding with a clan in the Basilicata region, believed to have Calabria Mafia links.

Magistrates petitioned parliament to allow Mr Blasi's arrest as he holds conditional immunity as an elected representative.

He is accused of making a pact with local Mafia bosses in Basilicata to award public works contracts in return for electoral support.

Mr Blasi, a member of Italy's ruling Forza Italia party, denounced the investigation as a "political persecution".

"It's unthinkable that the values of generosity and human helpfulness are turned into crimes," he told Italy's Ansa news agency.

Poverty and power

Local judge Alberto Iannuzzi, sitting in Basilicata's regional capital, Potenza, ordered the arrests as part of an ongoing probe into alleged corruption and electoral malpractice.

As well as the arrest of Mr Blasi, the judge ordered the detention of two local clan leaders in Basilicata.

Investigators spoke of "widespread and methodical collusion" between politicians and Mafia gangs in the poverty-stricken southern region, where the Mafia has traditionally wielded significant power.

The Basilicata clan is suspected of having links with one of Italy's most powerful Mafia organisations, the Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta, as well as the Naples-based Camorra.

In September police arrested around 100 suspected members of the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria.

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15 Oct 04 |  Europe

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