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Silvio Berlusconi, bruised, leaves hospital and vows to get back to work

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left the hospital on Thursday, four days after an assault left him bloody and bruised. The aftermath of the incident has revealed a rising level of rancor in Italian politics.

By Correspondent / December 17, 2009

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (c.) leaves the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Thursday.

Giampiero Sposito/Reuters

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Rome

Bruised and bandaged, Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was discharged from hospital on Thursday, four days after a lone protester smashed a souvenir statuette into his face.

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The 73-year-old media mogul had a large bandage stuck to the left side of his face and over his nose, which was broken in the attack in central Milan on Sunday, as he mingled in a crowd of supporters following a political rally.

The assault has widened a deep rift between Italy’s feuding political parties and further divided an already sharply polarized society.

In a country in which the flamboyant prime minister is loved and loathed in almost equal measure, passions have run high on the street, in parliament in Rome, and on the Internet, with the Left and Right blaming each other for rhetoric that made the prime minister a target for violence.

The country has been plunged into a frenzy of recrimination and accusation since Massimo Tartaglia, an electronics engineer with a history of mental problems, hurled a replica of Milan’s famous cathedral at "Il Cavaliere," as the three-time prime minister is known.

Tartaglia, a loner who lived with his parents, is being held in prison and faces up to five years in jail for aggravated assault.

The prime minister’s spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti said that despite his injuries, his boss was keen to get back to running the country.

"He's a work machine: he gets up at 7 a.m. and he keeps going until two in the morning. To try to stop him is like trying to block a panzer tank; you'd risk getting run over," Mr Bonaiuti said.

While Mr. Berlusconi is expected to spend a few days recuperating in a luxury villa he owns outside Milan, there were also reports that he would seek to have the scars from the attack removed with plastic surgery.

In a statement, Mr Berlusconi said that despite the physical trauma he had suffered as a result of the attack, the messages of goodwill he had received from Italy’s center-left opposition meant that some good might come out of the incident.

"I will remember two things about these days: the hatred of a few and the love of many, many Italians,” he said. “If what happened leads to a greater awareness of the need for more civil and honest language in political dialogue, then this pain will not have been in vain.”

Political vitriol

But it will take more than bland entreaties for cross-party harmony to quench the vitriolic tone of political discourse that has erupted in the days since the assault.
Italians well remember the so-called “years of lead” of the 1970s and 1980s, when factions from the extreme left and right carried out a tit-for-tat series of shootings and bombings.

While there was as yet “no comparison” to be made with that era, parliament was in danger of “going up in flames” as a result of the increasingly toxic political debate, said La Stampa newspaper, a respected Turin-based daily.

Ferdinando Adornato, the president of a think tank, said: “Italy is a country which has lived through a civil war, albeit only a verbal one, for years. The comparison with the 1970s is out of place, but there is a risk that this verbal civil war could evolve from words to actions.”

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