- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

ROME | An attacker hurled a statuette at Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, striking the leader in the face at the end of a rally Sunday and leaving the stunned 73-year-old media mogul with a broken nose and bloodied mouth.

Police said the 42-year-old man accused of attacking Mr. Berlusconi as he signed autographs in Milan was immediately arrested. The Italian leader was rushed to a hospital, where he was being held overnight.

The attack occurred at a time when Mr. Berlusconi, one of Italy’s wealthiest men and a staunch ally of the United States, is embroiled in a sex scandal, a divorce case with his wife and public protests demanding his resignation.

TV showed the stunned leader with blood under his nose, on his mouth and under one eye as he was lifted to his feet by aides after Sunday’s attack. He was hustled into the back of a car, but he immediately got out, apparently to show he was not badly injured.

But Mr. Berlusconi suffered a “small fracture” of the nose, two broken teeth and an injury to the inside and outside of his lip, said Paolo Klun, chief spokesman for San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.

“He wanted to go home right away, but he is being held as a precaution” for overnight observation, Mr. Klun said. The prime minister suffered “a significant bruising trauma from this blunt instrument that was hurled at him.”

Police first said it appeared that the assailant had punched Mr. Berlusconi in the face while clutching a souvenir statue of Milan’s Duomo, or cathedral, with gargoyles that symbolizes the city. But state TV later showed a video, somewhat blurry, of what appeared to be the attacker’s hand coming close to Mr. Berlusconi’s face while holding the statue, then letting go of the object at the last minute as it hit his face.

Mr. Berlusconi was “very shaken and demoralized,” Mr. Klun said. “He didn’t understand very well what happened to him.”

Immediately after the attack, the prime minister, after getting out of the car and without saying a word, was pulled back into the vehicle by bodyguards.

The attack occurred after Mr. Berlusconi had just finished delivering a long, vigorous speech at the rally to thousands of applauding supporters from his Freedom People party in the square outside the cathedral about 6:30 p.m.

The attack occurred at a difficult political time for Mr. Berlusconi, who has been plagued by scandals.

On Dec. 5, tens of thousands of Italians marched peacefully through Rome to demand his resignation, claiming conflicts of interest between government actions and his business empire. Several legal cases against the prime minister have ended with acquittal and others are pending.

Mr. Berlusconi’s wife is divorcing him after complaining about his infatuation with young women. A southern Italian businessman has told investigators that he procured some 30 attractive young women for parties and dinners at the premier’s Rome residence and Sardinian villa. Among the guests was a high-end prostitute who claimed she slept with Mr. Berlusconi. He has denied ever paying for sex.

Mr. Berlusconi has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and blames his judicial woes on prosecutors whom he claims sympathize with the opposition left.

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