Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was rushed to hospital covered in blood with a broken nose and teeth after a man with mental problems hurled a statuette at him at a rally, officials said on Sunday.
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 73-year-old prime minister said "I'm fine, I'm fine" as he arrived at the hospital.
He later told an Italian television presenter visiting him that he considered it "miraculous" not to have lost an eye in the attack, the Ansa news agency said.
His personal doctor, Alberto Zangrillo, said the premier had suffered a fractured nose, two broken teeth and cuts to his lips that required stitches.
He said Berlusconi would be kept in at least overnight for observation and would need up to 15 days to recover. The tycoon would not need surgery but could be kept in hospital for long as 48 hours, Zangrillo said.
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.
The incident triggered an outpouring of solidarity for Berlusconi from allies and critics alike, just as the prime minister seeks to regain political momentum after a bruising year battling mounting legal troubles and sex scandals.
"This is truly a bad day for Italy, and it's the duty of all the political forces to ensure that Italy does not go back to the years of violence," said Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi's top conservative ally, one of many to denounce the incident.
Allies blamed the assault on an atmosphere of hatred swirling around the prime minister.
Just hours after the attack, Facebook groups had sprung up hailing or attacking Tartaglia, including one fan site with more than 32,000 fans that labelled him a man with "lots of courage".
Berlusconi's spokesman said the premier had confided his fears of a "climate of hate and aggression" against him as they travelled together to the rally.
A number of ministers and supporters gathered at the Milan hospital where Berlusconi was spending the night.
The attack came after a speech that had been billed as politically significant but revealed no big policy shift.
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Berlusconi launched a familiar tirade against the left and rattled off a list of government achievements, in a characteristically feisty performance aimed at shoring up his standing and ratings.
After a summer dodging accusations of an improper relationship with a teenager and parties with escorts, Berlusconi has come under pressure lately from a widening rift with Fini and a growing list of legal headaches.
Stripped of immunity from prosecution, Berlusconi faces several trials, including one on charges of bribery and corruption and another on charges of tax fraud.
He denies any wrongdoing and says judicial allegations against him are part of a "politically-motivated campaign by biased courts and judges" to bring down his government.
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.