Italy president hugs those like him who lost family to Mafia

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Italian Presdient Sergio Mattarella speaks at an event to honor victims of Mafia crimes, in the Calabrian town of Locri, southern Italy, Sunday, March 19, 2017. Mattarella on Sunday paid tribute to those slain for opposing organized crime, including judges, police officers, union leaders, entrepreneurs, and politicians, like his own brother, who were killed by the mob. (Francesco Ammendola/Italian Presidential Press Service pool photo via AP)

ROME (AP) - Italy's president, whose brother was murdered by Cosa Nostra, traveled on Sunday to an organized crime stronghold to honor hundreds of Italians slain by the country's crime clans over the past decades.

President Sergio Mattarella also praised the judges, prosecutors, police officers, union leaders, businessmen and politicians who courageously combatted or denounced organized crime.

During the ceremony in Locri, a Calabrian town that is a long-time base of the 'ndrangheta crime syndicate, the names of innocent victims - some caught in the crossfire of turf wars - were read aloud. Among the names was that of the president's brother, Piersanti Mattarella, the Sicilian governor assassinated in Palermo in 1980.

The event anticipated Italy's annual remembrance day, occurring later this week, for victims of organized crime.

Near Naples, hundreds of scouts filled a church in the mobster-infested town of Casal di Principe to pay tribute to a priest, Giuseppe Diana, who denounced the local Caselesi crime clan of the Camorra syndicate. Diana was shot to death in the church sacristy in 1994.

Mattarella lamented the "Mafia is still strong" and controls or tries to infiltrate much of Italy's economy. He denounced "gray areas, those of complicity," which mobsters exploit, a reference to corruptible politicians and public administrators who, investigations have found, help mafiosi win lucrative contracts in construction and social services, such as hospitals.

While rooted for generations in Italy's underdeveloped south, the 'ndrangheta, Camorra and other syndicates have also infiltrated businesses in affluent northern Italy.

Still, progress has come. Young people in Sicily inspired many shopkeepers and industrialists there to stop paying Cosa Nostra "protection" money.

Locri Archbishop Francesco Oliva insisted Calabria wants to break with a past "stained by the blood of crime feuds that sowed death and desperation."

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Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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