Italy backs new anti-Mafia law after heated debate

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PALERMO (Reuter) - The Italian government yesterday used a confidence vote to push a tough anti-Mafia package through the Senate, parliament's upper house, following the killing of a leading Sicilian judge, Paolo Borsellino.

Scuffles broke out in the Senate during the angry debate on how to combat the Mafia. Italian television showed ushers struggling to hold rival groups of senators apart in the usually staid upper house.

A senator for the Northern League, Gianfranco Miglio, had suggested on Thursday that the Italian State should withdraw from the island of Sicily, saying it was incapable of defeating the Mafia and might as well give up.

General Umberto Capuzzo, a former army chief and one-time head of the paramilitary Carabinieri, responded furiously by accusing Mr Miglio of insulting Italy. 'Your speech is an insult to intelligence. Long live Italy,' the 70-year-old general, now a Christian Democrat senator, told Mr Miglio as League senators swarmed across the floor of the chamber to try to attack him.

Meanwhile, protesters in Palermo hurled insults at Italy's police chief as some 8,000 Sicilians mourned Borsellino at his funeral. He was killed with five bodyguards last Sunday.

In the first arrest since the blast, police said they had charged a private security guard with aiding the crime. He was alleged to have refused to testify though he was present when the bomb went off. The man was not named, but investigators said he was employed by city council tax offices located in the street where the bomb exploded.

The Senate approved stiff new laws against organised crime by 163 votes to 106. The legislation drafted by the ruling four-party coalition now goes to the the Chamber of Deputies.

A new anti-Mafia chief prosecutor and other investigators will have wider powers to fight gangsters, including the use of undercover 'sting' operations, wiretaps and infiltrators. The package gives police the power to carry out searches without warrants, a measure previously adopted in the fight against terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Protesters at Borsellino's funeral service - jeering and whistling at the police commissioner, Vincenzo Parisi - shouted 'Parisi buffoon' as he followed the hearse. Mr Parisi had also been the target of protests at Tuesday's funeral of the five bodyguards in Palermo cathedral, when he was jostled by demonstrators believed to include police bodyguards.

Friday's protest was brief. Some 8,000 people massed outside the church where the funeral service was being held. Most disregarded a plea by Borsellino's widow, Agnese, for a quiet ceremony. She had refused a state funeral for Borsellino but had invited President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, the Justice Minister, Claudio Martelli, and Mr Parisi to the private rites.

The crowd of mourners broke into applause which lasted several minutes as the coffin of Borsellino, draped with his red magistrate's cloak, was carried out of the church. Mr Scalfaro, respected as a fiercely moral politician, prayed for political leaders not to betray the expectations of Italians.