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Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87

Legendary Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, whose shots of bullet-riddled bodies captured the dark world of the Sicilian mafia, has died aged 87.

Italian anti-mafia photographer Letizia Battaglia dies aged 87
Letizia Battaglia pictured at an exhibition of her work in Toulouse, southwest France, in 2016. Photo by ERIC CABANIS / AFP

Prize-winning Battaglia, who would speed to the scene of murders in the 1980s on her Vespa to bear witness to the violence, blew away the romanticised and sanitised image of the Cosa Nostra.

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando said her death late Wednesday had deprived his city, the Sicilian capital, of “an extraordinary woman” who played “an emblematic part in the process of freeing Palermo from the mafia’s control”.

Battaglia, an anti-mafia campaigner who became a local politician in Palermo and then a regional Sicilian assembly member, started out in the photo department of a local daily newspaper.

“You could have five murders in the same day,” she said in 2006, when a collection of her photographs of organised crime slayings went on show in a Rome exhibition.

“The work was exhausting but you couldn’t stand by with your arms folded, with our little mafia on our little island.

“We had to bear witness to this violence and the world had to know.”

An exhibition of Letizia Battaglia’s work at Palazzo Fontana di Trevi in Rome, in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini mourned Thursday, “A great photographer, a great Italian woman who, with her art and her photographs, engaged in important struggles of denunciation and civil commitment.”

Battaglia’s pictures show a small street in Palermo, the interior of an apartment, the white wall of a pork butcher’s shop, a garage ramp, the back of a bus, a car seat.

They all have one thing in common: captured in black and white is a body lying on the ground near a pool of blood, or a face torn apart by a bullet.

Letizia Battaglia’s ‘Arrest of Mafia boss Leoluca Gagarella, Palermo, 1980″ on exhibition in Rome in 2006. Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP

It was the era when the Corleone clan fought their way to power, headed by boss Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano – who were finally caught last month after decades on the run.

From judges regarded as too interfering or local politicians to young drug dealers, the “Palermo war” left hundreds dead in the space of a few years, often gunned down in broad daylight and in public places.

Battaglia’s pictures are unsparing. Faces of the dead are shown with eyes wide open, surprised by death. Friends and relatives lament, while onlookers crowd round the scene with expressions of curiosity or resignation.

In 2006, she said those bloody times may be gone, but the mafia is not.

The Rome exhibition, she said, was “a cry for help, because the consequences for our island of the mafia are as unbearable as ever”.

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CRIME

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

Italy commemorated the death of Italian judge Giovanni Falcone on Monday, thirty years after the brutal Capaci bombing.

Italy remembers murdered anti-mafia judge Falcone

The entire country paid tribute on Monday to anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by the Sicilian mafia 30 years ago in a car bomb murder that shocked the country.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese laid a wreath at the memorial at the site of the blast at Capaci, near Palermo, that killed Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort on May 23rd 1992.

Another ceremony in Palermo was attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose brother Piersanti, then Sicily’s regional president, was also murdered by the mafia.

In a statement, Prime Minister Mario Draghi hailed the legacy of Falcone, saying that thanks to his “courage, professionalism and determination, Italy has become a freer and fairer country”.

He said Falcone and his colleagues – one of whom, Paolo Borsellino, was killed by Cosa Nostra two months later – “dealt decisive blows against the mafia”.

“Their heroism had rooted anti-mafia values in society, in new generations, in republican institutions,” he added, saying the “relentless fight against organised crime and […] the search for truth” must continue.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogramme (1100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend. At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

READ ALSO: How murdered judge Giovanni Falcone shaped Italy’s fight against the mafia

On July 19th, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Falcone posed a real threat to Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by The Godfather trilogy, and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

He and Borsellino were later credited with revolutionising the understanding of the mafia, working closely with the first informants and compiling evidence for a groundbreaking ‘maxi-trial’ in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

“Thanks to Falcone and Borsellino, the Sicilian mafia became a notorious fact, not something that had to be proved to exist at every trial,” anti-mafia prosecutor Marzia Sabella told AFP.

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