Italy's popular, yet polarizing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was injured on Sunday evening after holding a fiery politcal rally in Milan, when a man threw a solid object against his face at point blank range.
The weapon reportedly turned out to be a miniature metallic replica of the Duomo, the city's famous cathedral, next to which Mr. Berlusconi was speaking moments before the attack.
State-run television Rai showed images of the stunned, yet defiant prime minister with a badly bloodied face and cited doctors at a nearby hospital confirming that Berlusconi suffered a broken nose. Accordingly to Italian news agency Ansa, Berlusconi also had teeth damaged.
The offender was immediately arrested by the police and identified as Massimo Tartaglia, a man with no criminal record. He is currently under arrest, being questioned by the police, and has not released any statement about his own motives.
According to some news reports here, Mr. Tartaglia has no political affiliation and might suffer from mental disorders. But many believe the aggression had to be political ly motivated.
“It's plain terrorism,” said senator Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League party, a far-right ally of the Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom Party.
A tense rally
Berlusconi was participating in a membership drive event organized by his party, but protesters repeatedly interrupted his final speech, shouting “clown, clown!” and “trial, trial!,” in reference to the corruption charges the prime minister is currently facing.
The divisive prime minister, now famous abroad for his outlandish gaffes (see The Monitor's Top 5 Berlusconi gaffes), has made enemies of left-leaning critics whom he routinely belittles.
“See why we need to be here?” Berlusconi responded to the crowd. ““Shame on those kids contesting us. We, on the other hand, never do this kind of things, as we believe in freedom of speech.”
Berlusconi's supporters have accused the political opposition of promoting hatred and violence against him: “[Left-leaning politician Antonio Di Pietro] preaches and the crowd carries out his orders,” wrote pro-government newspaper Libero on its website, few hours after the incident.
Who's inciting violence against whom?
A few days earlier, Di Pietro had accused Berlusconi of “inciting citizens to violence” against himself, with his alleged avoidance of his pending anti-corruption trials. Di Pietro said Berlusconi was "using the Parliament for making laws that are useful only for himself," a reference to Berlusconi's efforts to pass controversial judicial reform laws that would speed up trials. Critics say the law may cause one or all of the three trials Berlusconi is currently facing to expire before they see an end.
After Sunday's aggression, Di Pietro said he does “not approve violence.” But he also said he “shares the complaints of those citizens who are disappointed with the prime minister.”
But other progressive leaders used much stronger words to condemn the attack: “There can be no excuses for this kind of action,” said Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party, Berlusconi's major political opponent.
The Parliament's speaker Gianfranco Fini said he is very worried about the rise of political violence. “We must do our best to prevent the years of violence from comeing back”, he said, referring to the decade of political turmoil that had shaken Italy between the late 1960s and the early 1980s.
Within minutes from the incident, a number of Facebook groups were born, with names such as Tartaglia Fan Club (348 members), Free Tartaglia (292 members), Appreciation for Tartaglia (728 members), Massimo Tartaglia for President (7 members), Let's kill Massimo Tartaglia (68 members)
Not Berlusconi's first attack
It's not the first time Berlusconi is the victim of an aggression. Five years ago Roberto Dal Bosco, a young construction worker, threw his camera against Berlusconi, while he was taking a walk in Rome's Piazza Navona.
Berlusconi said he had pardoned Mr. Dal Bosco, after the young man has sent him a letter of apology.