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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 09:48 GMT
Gangs turn Naples into battleground
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Naples, Italy

Relatives carry the coffin of Daniele Del Core, one of seven people killed in the last five days
Naples has seen seven gang deaths in five days
There was a double murder in Naples this week, which underlined just how far law and order has disintegrated in this city.

The two victims, men in their thirties, were trying to escape their killer on a motorcycle.

One of them was shot several times in the back of the head. The other, pinned to the ground underneath his fallen bike, was executed as he lay begging for help.

It was a brazen gangland killing - it happened in broad daylight, in the rush hour, and outside the offices of the financial police.

Battle for control

Over the past few weeks the suburbs of Naples have turned into a battle zone, as rival clans within the Mafia, known as the Camorra, battle for control of the drug trade.

There have been seven deaths in five days. These latest two murders were retribution, say police, for the killing of a rival gang member several days earlier.

The escalation of violence has led to calls for the army to be deployed on the streets.

Hiding your face in this part of the city could set you apart as a member of a rival gang and that can be fatal
Naples police officer

"Before this was a taboo," said Justice Minister Clemente Mastella. "Now I am open to discussing it. The army is an option we should consider."

But police and magistrates in the city agree that the army is not the answer.

"What we need is a justice system that works," said Franco Roberti, head of the regional anti-Mafia department.

"Criminals need to know they risk serving real time. We need more resources and more police on the streets."

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato has promised an extra 1,000 policemen. But what difference can they really make?

Gang feud

Privately magistrates blame the government. In August, 8,000 inmates were granted early release, to ease the pressure on the overcrowded prisons.

They are men now free to settle old scores.

The main feud is between gang members in the suburbs of Scampia and Secondigliano.

There is a new generation of ambitious young gangsters who want a larger cut of the drugs profits. Strangers are largely unwelcome in these districts.

When we arrived in the suburb of Sanita, under police escort, young men who serve as Camorra lookouts appeared on the balconies.

"In these streets you will notice the men who ride motorbikes never wear a helmet," said the officer with us.

"They make sure the bosses know who they are. Hiding your face in this part of the city could set you apart as a member of a rival gang. And that can be fatal."

'Taking its toll'

Not all the violence though can be blamed on the Mafia. Low-level crime is endemic. A good number of the deaths are the result of muggings and armed robberies.

Police in Naples
The authorities have pleaded for a long-term commitment to cut crime

In May last year, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, Ernesto Albanese, lost his father in a street robbery. He was killed at the entrance to his home by bandits who still remain at large.

Today Ernesto runs a project called "L'Altra Napoli" (The Other Naples), which seeks to encourage wealthy Neapolitans to return and help their city.

"There have been 130,000 crimes in the last year - five times the national average. The incredible thing is that an estimated 40% of the crimes are never reported. So probably the real figure is much higher," he said. "That takes an enormous toll on the city."

"Look at Neapolitan people, look how they have changed. Once they were open, smiling, they were happy - now if you look at the people's faces they are sad, they are frightened and you can understand why."

The escalation of violence has undermined years spent trying to put a kinder, gentler face on Naples. Successive governments have cleaned up the piazzas, reopened the museums.

But of late the tourists who come have been caught in the crossfire. A Canadian was hit by a stray bullet last month while walking in the centre of the city. In August an American was beaten up as he gave chase to two muggers.

People are hoping that with time, economic development will eliminate the Mafia.

But the problems run deep. When a Mafia war starts it is hard to stop. The killing will continue, one officer told me, until one clan has eliminated the other.

Scenes from the funeral of a murder victim

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01 Nov 06 |  Europe
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01 Feb 05 |  Europe
Mafia turf war grips Naples
24 Nov 04 |  Europe

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