Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Attack on Berlusconi 'premeditated'

Roberto Maroni: "The aggressor was equipped with pepper spray"

An attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday was premeditated, Italy's interior minister, Roberto Maroni, has said.

Mr Maroni said the suspect, named as Massimo Tartaglia, had been "developing a rage" against the PM "for some time".

Mr Berlusconi, 73, suffered a broken nose, cuts and two broken teeth after being hit with a model of Milan cathedral after a rally in the city.

He is to leave hospital on Wednesday with orders to rest, his doctor said.

The prime minister's personal physician Alberto Zangrillo told journalists on Tuesday that Mr Berlusconi had been ordered not to carry out "important" public activities for two weeks.

Mr Berlusconi has already cancelled plans to attend the UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after being struck in face

"Physically, he is eating normally, but with a bit of difficulty," Mr Zangrillo said. "In terms of morale, it's still a matter of concern... but he is showing signs of recovery."

He said the prime minister had spent "a quiet night" at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan.

Mr Maroni said the assailant had been in the square in Milan for some hours ahead of Mr Berlusconi's arrival "to prepare for his mad action".

"He was equipped with pepper spray and also a resin crucifix," he said.

"He had been developing a rage against the prime minister for some time."

Mr Maroni said the attacker didn't belong to any political group and described him as unmarried and suffering from "paranoia".

He said an investigation into the incident had been launched.

The attack led to criticism of the security surrounding Mr Berlusconi, but Mr Maroni said police check every area visited by the prime minister well in advance.

The minister also commented on Italian media reports that two members of the public had warned police of Mr Tartaglia's behaviour before the attack.

He said the two had been interviewed and they had only reported "a mad person who was disturbing passers-by".

Earlier, lawyers for Mr Tartaglia, who reportedly has a history of mental illness, said he had apologised for his "cowardly and rash act".

Model similar to that thrown at Silvio Berlusconi
The alabaster model, similar to this one, was flung from close range

"I don't recognise myself," Mr Tartaglia said in a letter which his lawyers took to the hospital where Mr Berlusconi is being treated.

Mr Berlusconi was signing autographs in a crowd of people when the object - described by Mr Maroni as an alabaster model - struck him full in the face.

Amid chaotic scenes he was bundled into a car, his face bloodied, and driven to hospital.

Mr Zangrillo said the prime minister had lost half a litre (one pint) of blood in the attack.

Messages of goodwill for Mr Berlusconi have been left around the gates of the San Raffaele hospital.

One banner left by supporters of AC Milan football club - of which Mr Berlusconi is president - said "Forza Presidente" (Go President).

The attack on Italy's often controversial prime minister has caused deep shock in Italy.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg, in Milan, says politicians on the left and right are accusing each other of creating an atmosphere of hate in which the attack was made possible.

Since the incident, pages on social networking sites praising the attacker have been joined by thousands of people.

Mr Maroni accused them of "inciting hostility" towards Mr Berlusconi and said the government was considering taking legal action against them.

In October, Italian officials opened an inquiry into a Facebook group called "Let's kill Berlusconi", which had more than 16,000 members.

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