Mob rule defied by rector

March 18, 2005

The rector of the University of Palermo in Sicily has announced plans to abolish tuition fees for students whose families have to pay protection to the Cosa Nostra - in effect a public challenge to omertà , the Mafia's law of silence.

Giuseppe Silvestri made his announcement last month at a conference of judges discussing Mafia extortion. He said: "Family members of victims of extortion rackets must be exempted from paying fees."

His proposal has been approved in principle by the university's governing board, but it is not yet clear how it will be implemented.

A university representative said the rector believed "that the university is not an academic abstraction, a place isolated from the city and its problems."

The proposal could encourage extortion victims, usually those who run small businesses, to tell the authorities. It also issues a challenge to the Mafia's omerta, the breaking of which is invariably punished by death.

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