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Page last updated at 20:12 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 21:12 UK

Dozens jailed in Italy Mafia case

A policeman inspects a burnt bus in southern Italy, April 2008
Failure to pay extortion money sometimes led to arson attacks

An Italian judge has jailed 49 members of a Sicilian Mafia syndicate - some for up to 20 years - for running protection rackets against businesses.

The government says the case is a landmark in the ongoing battle against organised crime in southern Italy.

The accused, all from the Lo Piccolo crime family, were extorting money - called "pizzo" - from shops in Sicily.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says failure to pay led to violence, arson and occasionally murder.

Official figures suggest that up to 80% of businesses in Palermo pay the protection money to Mafia criminals in order to continue their commercial activities.

But this is the first time that Sicilian business groups, working closely with the police, have achieved a successful prosecution, including the payment of compensation to victims, says our correspondent.

But the fight against Mafia crime in Sicily is far from over, he adds.

Seventeen years after the murder of two leading anti-Mafia judges and investigators, the authorities are investigating alleged newly-discovered links to members of the security services who may have betrayed the judges to the crime clans.



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