Page last updated at 04:22 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Berlusconi nose broken by protest attacker


The prime minister was assaulted after a rally

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under observation in hospital after being attacked at a political rally in Milan.

His doctor Alberto Zangrillo said it would take a few weeks for Mr Berlusconi to make a full recovery.

He said the prime minister's nose and two teeth had been broken in the attack and that he had lost a lot of blood.

A 42-year-old man, who has a history of mental illness, has been charged with aggravated assault.

Duncan Kennedy (archive image)
Duncan Kennedy, BBC News, Rome

The attack will undoubtedly raise questions about security surrounding the prime minister.

Like most heads of government, he travels with a large team of bodyguards and aides but Mr Berlusconi is a gregarious figure who likes to mingle with ordinary people.

He is also a divisive individual in Italian politics, with opinion polls showing a broad split between voters.

After months of personal scandal involving his private life, he has become an even more polarising leader, though the motivation for this physical attack is not yet clear.

Dr Zangrillo said Mr Berlusconi, 73, had had to undergo a CT scan in the hospital but did not yet require any surgery.

He said the prime minister could be kept in hospital for as long as 48 hours.

"He suffered a big trauma to his face with two evident wounds on the upper lip, one external and one internal which needed surgical suture," he said.

He is believed to have been struck full in the face by a souvenir model of Milan cathedral while signing autographs.

Show of defiance

However, Dr Zangrillo said Mr Berlusconi was still not quite sure about what had happened to him.

After the attack on Sunday evening the prime minister, looking dazed, was helped to his feet by aides and put in a car. He got out and tried to climb on the car to show he was all right, before being driven away.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi was left dazed by the attack

And upon arrival at the hospital the prime minister, who had blood all over his face, said he was fine.

It was a typical show of defiance by a political fighter, says the BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome.

However, Italy's Ansa news agency reported that Mr Berlusconi had told one visitor later that he thought it was "miraculous" that he did not lose an eye in the attack.

There are said to have been scuffles between hecklers and security staff during the rally and before the attack.

At the hospital, Mr Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti said he was worried about the "atmosphere of hatred and violence in the air".

Under pressure

The attack was condemned by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano while conservative Gianfranco Fini said: "This is truly a bad day for Italy, and it's the duty of all the political forces to ensure that Italy does not go back to the years of violence."

Massimo Tartaglia
Massimo Tartaglia was charged with assault following the incident

Umberto Bossi, leader of the far-right Northern League said what had happened was an "act of terrorism" and called the attack "a worrying sign".

Police have charged Massimo Tartaglia, 42, with aggravated assault for hurling the miniature replica at Mr Berlusconi.

The replica of the cathedral, famous for its gothic spires, was initially said to have been made of metal but later reports suggested it was plaster.

The Italian prime minister was previously assaulted in the street on New Year's Eve 2004, when a tourist visiting Rome struck him with a camera at a rally in the capital's Piazza Navona.

Italy's Silvio Berlusconi physically attacked in street in December 2004 in Rome, and December 2009 in Milan
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan punched in the stomach by a man as he is about to deliver a speech Trabzon, August 2009
New Zealand's John Key shoved and grabbed by two protesters at Maori event, February 2009

His attacker, a bricklayer from northern Italy, reportedly told police he had attacked Mr Berlusconi because he hated him. The politician suffered a bruise.

Mr Berlusconi has been under pressure in recent months.

His private life has been in the spotlight, amid allegations that he slept with prostitutes, and after his wife filed for divorce.

He has dismissed accusations of ties to the Mafia, and criminal cases against him have resumed after a law giving him immunity was overturned.

A week ago, tens of thousands of people attended an anti-Berlusconi rally in Rome.

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