, MILAN, Dec 14 – A man with a history of mental health problems attacked Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Sunday, knocking out two of his teeth and forcing him to be rushed to hospital with a blood-splattered face.
Television pictures showed the 73-year-old prime minister in the midst of a crowd following a political rally in his native Milan, when suddenly a man lunged and took a swing at Berlusconi\\\’s face.
Blood splattered across his face, aides bundled Berlusconi into a car and rushed him from the scene in the northern industrial city.
Police later charged a 42-year-old man with aggravated assault for hurling a miniature replica of Milan\\\’s gothic cathedral at Berlusconi, the ANSA news agency said.
The prime minister was examined and treated at the emergency room at the San Raffaele Hospital, where a hospital spokesman said he had two teeth knocked out, a small fracture to his nose, cuts on the inside and outside of his upper lip and bruises to his face.
"From a clinical point of view, everything\\\’s fine, but there\\\’s a need for an observation period of one or two days," said Dr Alberto Zangrillo, head of the emergency room at the San Raffaele Hospital here.
Berlusconi would probably not require any operation, he added.
"I\\\’m fine, I\\\’m fine," the billionaire prime minister was quoted as saying by ANSA as he left the emergency room.
The suspected assailant, Massimo Tartaglia, had a 10-year history of mental health problems, ANSA said. His psychotherapist was summoned to the police station where he was being held, the agency added.
Television pictures showed the police protecting a dazed-looking Tartaglia from an angry crowd as they took him into custody. He was found in possession of a crucifix and teargas, ANSA reported.
Scuffles broke out after about 10 people jeered Berlusconi at the rally of his People of Freedom party, calling him a "clown".
He shouted back at them "shame on you", drowning them out with the help of the sound system.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he "strongly condemned" the attack.
Berlusconi was the victim of a similar assault several years ago in Rome when a young man hit him with a camera tripod, cutting his head.
The flamboyant prime minister has come under increasing pressure in recent months over his private life and business affairs.
On Friday he dismissed accusations of Mafia ties made by a turncoat criminal at an Italian court as "a farce".
Berlusconi, who began his third stint as prime minister in May last year, said he would not bow to pressure to go to the polls early.
A series of allegations about his private life this year led his wife Veronica Lario to file for divorce.
Lario, 53, is seeking 43 million euros (65 million dollars) a year in a divorce settlement, the Corriere della Sera newspaper said.
Already upset over her husband\\\’s reported dalliances with younger women, Lario felt the last straw came in April when he attended the 18th birthday party of aspiring model Noemi Letizia.
Her relationship with the prime minister has been the subject of months of speculation.
Berlusconi\\\’s penchant for controversial public statements has also added to the political pressure.
Some 350,000 people demonstrated in the centre of Rome against Berlusconi on December 5, responding to an Internet call for a "No Berlusconi Day".
"The left says I\\\’m a monster. But I\\\’m not a monster and I\\\’m a good boy," Berlusconi said at Sunday\\\’s rally with a wide smile.
Italy\\\’s top court in October quashed an amnesty law that would have benefitted the three-time prime minister, who faces a series of corruption charges.
On Friday in Milan, one corruption trial in which Berlusconi is accused was adjourned until January 15.
The prime minister faces allegations that he paid his British former tax lawyer, David Mills, 600,000 dollars to give false evidence in two trials in the 1990s.
Mills, who was tried separately, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail over the case in February.