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Italian minister approves family visits for ailing top Mafia boss

One of Sicily's most notorious Mafia bosses may be visited by family at the hospital where he is in a coma and still a prisoner serving more than two dozen life sentences, Italy's justice minister has said.

Justice minister Andrea Orlando said relatives of Salvatore "Toto" Riina could see him at a hospital in the northern city of Parma.

Ministry officials said Riina, who turned 87 on Thursday, was in a medically-induced coma.

Italian media have reported that his health deteriorated after two recent surgeries.

Riina is serving 26 life sentences for murder as a powerful Cosa Nostra boss.

Nicknamed "the beast" for his reputation as a killer, he was captured in Palermo, Sicily's capital, in 1993 after 23 years as a fugitive.

He has been imprisoned under a law that requires strict security measures for top mobsters, including limits on family visits, detention in isolated sections of prisons and drastically-reduced time out of their cells.

Prosecutors accused Riina of masterminding a strategy, carried out over several years, to assassinate Italian prosecutors, police officials and others who were going after Cosa Nostra when he allegedly held the helm as the so-called "boss of bosses".

The bloodbath campaign ultimately backfired on Cosa Nostra.

After bombs killed Italy's two leading anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two months apart in 1992, the state stepped up its crackdown on Sicily's mafiosi.

Riina was captured in a Palermo apartment six months after Borsellino and his police escorts were killed by a car bomb.

Born in Corleone, a Sicilian hill and Mafia stronghold, he steadfastly refused to collaborate with law enforcement after his capture.

Riina was incarcerated at a Milan prison before he was taken to hospital.

In July, a court denied a request by Riina's family to transfer the convicted mobster to house arrest because of his ailing health.

AP

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