Reuters International

A general view of the Italian Senate is seen during a debate in Rome, Italy October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

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By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Senate passed a bill on Wednesday aimed at cracking down on mafia threats against local administrators that often involve arson attacks, dead animals and envelopes full of bullets.

The bill would increase sentences and allow wiretaps and other investigative tools that police can use to track down those who threaten local administrators. The bill must now be approved by the lower house of parliament to become law.

"In the past 40 years, 132 local administrators and 11 of their spouses have been murdered," said Senator Doris Lo Moro, one of the sponsors of the bill. Local state representatives "should be protected," she said after its passage.

Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Campania have long used violence and intimidation to manipulate state officials in Italy's south, but data and recent scandals show the problem has spread north, even to the capital Rome.

Threats against administrators are on the rise, with 180 recorded during the first five months of this year, a more than 15 percent increase versus the same period of last year, according to data from Avviso Pubblico, a network of local administrations.

Since 1991, 212 city governments around Italy have been dissolved because of mafia infiltration, including three so far this year.

The most common form of intimidation that Italian organised crime groups used this year was arson, but letters containing bullets were also common, the data showed. Calabria, home of the 'Ndrangheta that has become the most powerful cocaine broker in Europe, recorded the most cases.

In five percent of the cases this year, dead animal parts were left on the doorsteps of administrators' homes or at city hall, recalling the scene from "The Godfather" film when a movie producer who resists the will of Don Corleone wakes to find the head of his favourite racehorse in his bed.

Pierpaolo Romani, Avviso Pubblico's national coordinator, underscored the fear and anxiety caused by such acts of intimidation.

"When an administrator is threatened, it means his or her whole family, including the children, feel threatened," he said. "We want them to know they are not alone."

(Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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