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Italy mourns 'fisherman-mayor' who stood up to the mafia

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2010-09-10

Italians paid tribute Friday to the mayor of a seaside town in the country’s mafia-infested south, who has become the latest casualty of the fight against organised crime.

Six thousand people huddled together along the port of the southern town of Pollica, on Friday, to pay their respects to the man who had spent a lifetime protecting the picturesque seaside resort – and died doing so.

The body of Angelo Vassallo, the “fisherman-mayor” of the seaside town in the southern Campania region, was found riddled with bullets in his car on Sunday.

Investigators have linked his death to the Camorra, the local mafia which is deeply rooted in the area around the southern city of Naples. The 56-year-old, centre-left mayor had fought tooth and nail against plans to pour more cement on an already heavily built-up coastline.

‘Hero of the Cilento’

Politicians from left and right joined in the mourning for the “hero of the Cilento”, a ragged coastal region of immense beauty that has been scarred over the years by greedy constructors accustomed to bending – and breaking – the rules, often with the complicity of local authorities.

Several party leaders and a government minister attended the funeral, while President Giorgio Napolitano sent a message of condolence, calling on police and the justice system to investigate the affair thoroughly.

But in the mafia-infested region, where suspected clan leaders go by the name of “the beast”, “the desert”, or “bang-bang”, the overwhelming feeling is that the mayor of Pollica had been abandoned by all.

Sources close to Vassallo say the mayor had repeatedly warned of problems with organised crime and some elements in the police, but that the authorities had done little or nothing to protect him.

"They left him on his own," his brother Claudio told SkyTG24 television on Tuesday. "He asked the police for help and they gave him nothing."

‘He who remains silent, is an accomplice’

The mayor of Pollica is the latest in a seemingly endless list of politicians, trade unionists and lawyers who have paid the ultimate price for their opposition to the mafia.

His murder, coming just months after a raft of highly-publicised arrests of mafia leaders, has served as a chilling reminder that organised crime in Italy’s beleaguered south is alive and kicking.

Roberto Saviano, author of the best-seller Gomorrah, which describes the inner workings of the Neapolitan mafia, says “the risk is that Angelo Vassallo should die just one day and be promptly forgotten”.

In an article published on Italian daily La Repubblica and titled “The scandal of democracy”, Saviano urged fellow Italians not to let the memory of the “fisherman-mayor” and of his sacrifice fade away.

“In a country where one dies for turning down a construction tender, or for barring a mafia-run business from building a road,” the acclaimed author said, “he who remains silent is an accomplice”.

Saviano has been living with a permanent police escort since the publication of Gomorrah in 2006 prompted the Neapolitan mafia to issue several death threats against him.

Date created : 2010-09-10


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