Minister: Attack On Italian Premier Premeditated

Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni told the parliament on Tuesday that the attack on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday was premeditated. He said the police recovered a container of pepper spray and a bag of heavy objects from the detained assailant.

Berlusconi, who was injured when an assailant attacked him at a political rally in Milan on Sunday, is currently recovering from the injuries sustained in the attack at a hospital in the city. Doctors at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan said that Berlusconi suffered a broken nose and sliced lips, besides having two teeth knocked out as a result of the attack.

On Sunday, a mentally disturbed man breached the security cordon of Berlusconi and hurled a souvenir statue of Milan's Duomo cathedral at him while attending a political rally in Milan. The miniature replica of Milan's Gothic cathedral, made of metal, struck Berlusconi in the face.

The police arrested the assailant at the scene, who was later identified as Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old man with a history of psychological problems. Police have charged Tartaglia with aggravated assault and have moved him to the San Vittore prison in Milan. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the charges.

"He was equipped with pepper spray and also a resin crucifix," Maroni said Tuesday. "He had been developing a rage against the prime minister for some time."

According to Maroni, the assailant had been in the square in Milan for some hours ahead of the PM's arrival "to prepare for his mad action". He said that the assailant appeared to have acted alone, as initial investigations revealed that he was not a member of any political group. The minister described the attacker as unmarried and suffering from "paranoia." The police have launched an investigation into the incident.

The minister said that he feared that the incident would prompt similar attacks on prominent personalities in the future. He claimed that there was a "growing, personal campaign against the premier," and pledged to crack down on social-networking sites, like Facebook that "instigate" violence against the Prime Minister.

Also on Tuesday, Tartiglia apologized for his "superficial, cowardly and inconsiderate act" in a letter sent to Berlusconi through his lawyers. In the letter, Tartaglia said that he acted alone with no form of "militancy or political affiliation."

Separately, Berlusconi's doctors said that he will be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday. They, however, advised him to rest and not to return to work for at least ten more days. This in turn prompted Berlusconi to cancel his planned trip to Copenhagen later this week to attend the ongoing UN climate summit in the Danish capital city.

This is not the first time that Berlusconi was the victim of such an attack. He suffered slight injuries several years ago when a young man hit him with a camera tripod in Rome. The latest attack on Berlusconi is being widely seen as a major security breach, and concerned authorities have ordered an investigation into how the attacker got so close to the Prime Minister.

There is a growing criticism of Berlusconi in Italy for his dalliances with young women, and after the Constitutional Court in October struck down a law granting him immunity to prosecution, making him again a defendant in several corruption trials.

Rome witnessed a peaceful protest December 5 when thousands of Italians marched through the capital calling for Berlusconi's resignation, citing conflicts of interest between his business empire and political career, as well as his efforts to introduce what critics say are custom-made justice reforms aimed at consolidating his power.

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