Mayor of Italian town resigns after mafia threats

Map of southern Italy showing Rome and Monasterace

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The resignation of the mayor of a small town in southern Italy has drawn attention to the pressures faced by local councillors who try to stand up to the mafia.

Maria Carmela Lanzetta resigned as mayor of Monasterace in Calabria after having her business set on fire and her car shot at.

She has spoken of feeling "helpless and alone" in the face of the threats.

Her decision to quit has had resonance beyond the little town of Monasterace.

The town, not much more than a village, is down near the toe of Italy. Sitting on a hill overlooking the sea, it is in a remote and beautiful setting, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports.

But for Maria Carmela Lanzetta, it has not been a peaceful place. When she took up office, in 2006, she found a large amount of debt.

"The town hall was basically devastated," she says. "There were no professionals who could manage the town hall."

Start Quote

It's organised crime, I have no other answers - it's very present in this area”

End Quote Maria Carmela Lanzetta Former mayor of Monasterace

Several months ago her business, a pharmacy, was set on fire. She and her family only narrowly escaped the blaze.

Last week shots were fired into her parked car just outside her home.

As soon as she found the bullet holes in her car, she thought "that's it," she says.

'Powerless and isolated'

Mrs Lanzetta believes she was targeted by the local mafia because she tried to impose a degree of order in the running of the town. She says she was stamping out inefficiencies that made illegality easier.

The former mayor claims that she enacted reforms to balance the accounts of the town hall, and got people to pay overdue water bills - which was met by lots of resistance.

Mrs Lanzetta says she had felt powerless and isolated - and that the forces of organised crime were greater than the elected representatives of the people. She describes the town as "ungovernable".

When asked where the intimidation she faced comes from, she says: "It's organised crime, I have no other answers. It's very present in this area."

Sympathy has been expressed for her at provincial and national level.

The senior official in the Calabria region concedes that the Italian state has failed in its duty to support Mrs Lanzetta. He says that mafia activity of this kind cast doubt on the viability of democracy in the area.

All across southern Italy, local councillors frequently come under intense pressure from the mafia.

An association formed by officials under threat has reported the burning down of property and shootings - as well as bullets and even the severed heads of animals being sent in the post.

Avviso Pubblico (which means "public notice") says that there were 212 cases of intimidation of local officials from organised crime in 2010 - 41% of them in the region of Calabria, where Monasterace is located.

The president of the Reggio Calabria province, Giuseppe Raffa, says the problem of intimidation "casts doubts about the democratic sustainability of southern Italy and Calabria," areas which are suffering the effects of the economic crisis.

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