Blaze mystery at `mafia market'

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The Independent Online
FROM DAVID USBORNE

in New York

Only days after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani pledged to end alleged Mafia control of New York City's historic Fulton Street Fish Market a section of it was destroyed by a mysterious and spectacular fire yesterday afternoon.

The blaze, which engulfed a warehouse in the market and sent clouds of smoke across lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, was brought under control by about 200 firefighters who converged on the area, blocking traffic and drawing crowds of onlookers from nearby Wall Street office buildings.

The building was mostly vacant when the fire broke out, because the famous market, which still turns over $1bn (£632m) a year in business, mostly operates between 3am and 9am. One fireman was reported injured in the blaze.

Almost as fast as the fire itself, speculation spread instantly about possible links to the Mayor's promise to put the market under direct city control to flush out the mob, which for decades has been widely seen to have been in charge of everything that moves in the market, from deciding on which companies get to operate there and who parks the lorries.

Hearings into Mr Giuliani's plans opened at City Hall only two days ago. One Council member, Kathryne Freed, said it was "an interesting coincidence" that the fire should have broken out this week. "It proves our point of why this market has to be regulated. Certainly there is a lot of resistance to the city coming in and regulating the market."

A worker, whose company operated from the gutted building, observed: "With everything that's going on with Giuliani, somebody certainly is going to look towards that link."

To inquisitive outsiders willing to rise early enough, the market, with its cobbled alleys and buildings that date back to 1833, presents an evocative and romantic image. However, there have long been dark stories of brutal mob control of the complex, involving the usual tactics of intimidation and injury for those brave or foolish enough to challenge it.

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