UPDATED: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

punched in hes face at Milan rally

13/12/09

BBC NEWS

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy is recovering in hospital after an assault left his face covered in blood following a rally in Milan.

He suffered two broken teeth, a minor nose fracture and cuts to his lip after being struck with an object said to be a souvenir of the city’s cathedral.

Mr Berlusconi, 73, tried to assure supporters afterwards he was OK but was taken to hospital for tests.

An Italian man said to have a history of mental problems has been arrested.

Alleged attacker Massimo Tartaglia being detained at the scene

Alleged attacker Massimo Tartaglia was detained at the scene

Massimo Tartaglia, 42, had no previous criminal record, police were quoted as saying.

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.

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

Mr Berlusconi insisted he was well at the hospital.

‘Marble or iron’

Mr Berlusconi had been greeting supporters in a square in Milan when the assault took place.

ANALYSIS

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 body guards 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.

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

At one point in his speech, Mr Berlusconi responded to his critics in Italy by declaring himself to be “good-looking” and “a decent chap”.

Eyewitnesses say the Italian leader was signing autographs when he was attacked by a man wielding a souvenir model of the cathedral, which is famous for its gothic spires.

State TV has shown a video, somewhat blurry, of what appears to be the attacker’s hand coming close to Mr Berlusconi’s face while holding the model, then letting go of it at the last minute as it hits his face, the Associated Press reports.

One eyewitness described the souvenir as “probably made of marble or iron but, anyhow, of some heavy material”.

Another eyewitness said the attacker had thrown an “object made of iron” at the prime minister.

Under pressure

A view of Milan's cathedral (archive image)

Mr Berlusconi is said to have been struck by a model of the cathedral

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.