Italy's 'top Mafia boss' is arrested

The reputed head of Italy's Mafia, Bernardo Provenzano, was arrested today in the Sicilian countryside after more than 40 years on the run, the Interior Ministry said.

Provenzano, Italy's most wanted man, is believed to have taken over the Sicilian Mafia after the 1993 arrest of former boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina in Palermo.

Police had arrested "the man who, after the arrest of Toto Riina, is considered the most important person from Cosa Nostra," Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano said. He described the development as "an important step forward ... for the entire nation."

Italy's top anti-mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso, who for years as Palermo's chief prosecutor had personally led the hunt for Provenzano, said on RAI radio that he felt "great satisfaction, great emotion" at the arrest.

A spokesman for the Palermo police, Agent Daniele Macaluso, said Provenzano had been arrested during the morning near Corleone, 37 miles south of Palermo and was being driven back to the Sicilian capital.

Provenzano has proven an elusive target.

Investigators have said they believe Provenzano has spent most of his years as a fugitive moving from house to house across Sicily, thanks largely to the help of Sicilians' reluctance to inform authorities.

Authorities even tracked the alleged mobster to a clinic in Marseille, France, where he apparently had prostate surgery, and showed a composite to clinic personnel.

As recently as last month, Provenzano's former lawyer was quoted as telling an Italian newspaper that the man was dead.

"I think he's dead, and has been dead for several years," Salvatore Traina was quoted as telling Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "They have looked for him everywhere, they have looked intensely for years but they can't find him. This must mean something."

Leoluca Orlando, former mayor of Palermo, immediately released a statement praising police and prosecutors in the Sicilian capital.

News of the arrest also prompted praise from many politicians, including President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

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