Sicily police catch Mafia protection racket head

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PALERMO, Italy, Oct 2 (Reuters) Police in Sicily today said they arrested a Mafia mobster suspected of running a racket that forces businesses to pay protection money or have their premises burnt down.

Enrico Scalavino, 36, is known as the ''king of the pizzo'' after the term for the tariff imposed by the Cosa Nostra. One recent report said 80 percent of local businesses had to pay up.

Sicilian business leaders are increasingly taking a public stand against paying the ''pizzo'' and the local branch of the national employers' federation Confindustria has threatened to exclude anyone who pays up from its membership.

''Businesses in all of Sicily can rest assured that the state will show no mercy to the protection racket and support ... all those who have been rebelling against the ''pizzo'' in recent months,'' Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said in a statement.

REUTERS ARB BD1557

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