This video image made available by RAI TG3 shows Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi after an attacker hurled a statuette at Berlusconi striking the leader in the face at the end of a rally in Milan, Italy on Sunday Dec. 13, 2009 leaving the 73-year-old media mogul with a bloodied mouth and looking stunned. AP
Silvio Berlusconi is taken to hospital after being hit in the face with a model of Milan’s cathedral
Berlusconi hit in the face with a model of Milan’s cathedral
by Josephine McKenna and Richard Owen in Rome
The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was struck in the face today by a man holding a small replica of Milan’s cathedral, leaving him with two broken teeth and forcing him to spend the night in hospital.
Witnesses said Mr Berlusconi was attacked after a political rally in the centre of Milan, as he was signing autographs in the square in front of the cathedral, the Duomo. He had just finished giving a speech to rally support for his ruling coalition amid continuing speculation about his future and an increasingly divided government.
He slumped to the ground after he was struck and his security guards immediately took him to San Raffaele hospital for treatment.
The man accused of attacking Mr Berlusconi, 73, was immediately arrested, as the crowd yelled abuse at him. The suspect, Massimo Tartaglia, 42, did not appear to have any political affiliations. Police said he had no criminal record and was not among the small group of protesters at the rally, but they said that he has been treated for mental health issues at Milan’s Policlinico Hospital for the past ten years.
Raw Video: Italian Leader Punched in the Face
Italy’s ANSA news agency said that the alleged attacker had received ten years of treatment for mental problems. Police said he was wielding a miniature statue of the Duomo cathedral, the city’s symbol.
Mr Berlusconi, blood streaming down his face, appeared stunned as he was taken away to hospital in a car. Hospital sources later said that Mr Berlusconi’s condition was not serious. He had two broken teeth and has suffered injuries to his nose, lips and cheek. He would be kept in overnight for observation. President Napolitano expressed his unconditional condemnation of the attack, and repeated his recent calls for an end to violent political rhetoric.
During Mr Berlusconi’s speech at the rally in Milan demonstrators shouted “buffoon” and “thief” at him. He shouted back “Shame, shame”, saying: “I am not a monster as the opposition claims — and not just because I am handsome.” He claimed that opinion polls gave him a popularity rating of 63 per cent, although the last published poll gave him 45 per cent. He denied accusations that he was linked to the Mafia, saying his government had done more than any other to combat organised crime. Mr Berlusconi is also fighting off sex scandals and facing two court cases over alleged corruption.
Last week in Bonn, at a meeting of fellow conservatives, Mr Berlusconi lashed out at Italy’s judges, magistrates and press as biased against him and said he was “strong and hard” and “had balls”. He claimed that magistrates, judges and the Constitutional Court were “subverting democracy and the will of the people” by defying his attempts to change the “outdated” constitution, since he had been elected last year with a commanding majority.
Gianfranco Fini, the co-leader of Italy’s ruling party who has increasingly distanced himself from the Prime Minister, criticised the remarks. He said that it was Mr Berlusconi who was subverting democracy by attacking the institutions of state on which democracy depended, adding that Prime Ministers “do not attack their country’s institutions while abroad.”
The attack was described by Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, as “an act of terrorism”. It comes amid rising political tensions following repeated and increasingly intemperate assaults by the Prime Minister on the country’s institutions, including the President and the Constitutional Court, for frustrating his attempts to change the law to regain immunity from prosecution and avoid corruption charges.
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party, the main opposition party, said the attack was “inexplicable and is to be firmly condemned”.
However, Antonio Di Pietro, a former anti-corruption magistrate and leader of the centre-left Italy of Values party, said he was “against all violence, but it is Berlusconi himself who instigated this”.