Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Monday, 14 December 2009

Silvio Berlusconi bloodied but unbowed by attack

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Rome


Various footage of the incident - video up until Mr Berlusconi is taken to his car is courtesy of L'Infedele

Like any true heavyweight, Silvio Berlusconi is a bruiser who likes a rumble in the political jungle.

Well now he's got the scars to prove it.

On his nose, his lips and his teeth, or what's left of them.

It wasn't quite a knock-out blow, but his assailant, armed with the most unlikely of coshes, in the form of a miniature replica of Milan's gothic cathedral, had the upper hand.

Down went the 73-year-old prime minister, floored with one blow that sent him reeling and his not-quick-enough-off-the-mark security staff into a panic.

Silvio Berlusconi was effectively mugged in front of his own bodyguards and supporters.

That breach of security will, of course, be the subject of a full-scale investigation.

How could anyone, especially someone armed (albeit with the most unorthodox of weapons), get close enough to attack the head of government of a major Western nation?

Lone assailant

In other countries, the alleged attacker, Massimo Tartaglia, might have been shot.

He wasn't and is now in custody.

Protecting any prime minister who loves to get close to his adoring supporters, is a headache for even the best of security details.

 Massimo Tartaglia
Massimo Tartaglia is believed to have a history of mental illness

Silvio Berlusconi has elevated interaction with the public to an art form.

No hand is left unshaken, no baby not kissed, no cheek passed without a peck, from a prime minister who believes he is truly a man of the people.

But there will still have to be a review of this touchy-feely approach, although don't expect Mr Berlusconi to be asking the Vatican for the loan of its bullet-proof Popemobile any time soon.

Why did Mr Tartaglia carry out the alleged attack?

We don't yet know, though he's reported to have mental health problems.

Even if he is a lone assailant with no political connections, that hasn't stopped Mr Berlusconi's supporters and opponents trying to make capital gains out of this unseemly bout of political violence.

A member of Mr Berlusconi's ruling coalition has already reached for the most colourful of adjectives by describing the incident as a "terrorist act".

Another said it was a bad day for Italian politics, as it took the country back to an era when bully-boy thuggery was as much a political tool as the ballot box.

Sense of frustration

These kind of supporters blame Italy's left-wing opposition for stirring up hatred.

Mr Berlusconi's own spokesman said there was a climate of fear and aggression against the prime minister.

But those opponents say if such an atmosphere of hostility exists, it has been of the prime minister's making.

They say his recent sex scandals, the messy divorce from his wife, his re-started corruption court cases and his continued control of the media, have all created a sense of frustration in Italy among people who see him as a liability.

Mr Berlusconi with a bloody face looking around
Mr Berlusconi, 73, tried to assure supporters afterwards he was fine.

And, with the lack of an effective parliamentary opposition, it's argued many Italians feel impotent and under-represented.

For the overwhelming majority of opponents that would not be enough to condone the assault on Silvio Berlusconi, even though they loathe him.

Line up 10 Italians and five will tell you the attack was an affront to democracy and a personal insult to the elected leader of the country.

The other five may not say he deserved it, but nor will they offer much by way of sympathy.

In Italy, politics has literally become a contact sport.

Silvio Berlusconi is not out for the count, but this has been a blow to him physically and to his dignity and politics has turned even more ugly than it was before.

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Reuters UK Berlusconi attacker apologises for "cowardly" act - 1 hr ago
Telegraph Berlusconi's attacker 'apologises for cowardly attack' - 2 hrs ago
Observer Silvio Berlusconi attack stirs up Italy - 4 hrs ago
Financial TimesItaly divided after attack on PM - 7 hrs ago
Times Online Berlusconi will need weeks of treatment - 11 hrs ago
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