MILAN - 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.
Berlusconi was bundled into a car, with blood spattered over his face, and whisked away after the assault in a square behind the cathedral in the northern city of Milan. The media mogul had just ended a speech to thousands of flag-waving supporters.
The 73-year-old prime minister, a popular but divisive figure, 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.
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.
A 42-year-old Italian man who has been under treatment for mental problems for 10 years was arrested for throwing a souvenir plaster statuette of the cathedral at Berlusconi from close range, police said. Sources close to the investigation named the man as Massimo Tartaglia.
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.
The billionaire businessman -- whose popularity has slipped -- has portrayed himself as a victim of communist magistrates, biased media and jealous leftists. 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.
What they've done to Berlusconi is an act of terrorism, Umberto Bossi, head of the far-right Northern League and a close Berlusconi ally, told Ansa. An oppressive climate has been felt for some time and what's happened today is a worrying sign.
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.
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.
An opinion poll published on Saturday indicated his popularity had fallen four percentage points to just over 50 percent as Italians fretted that his legal entanglements could distract him from government duties.
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.
In 2004, an Italian bricklayer hurled a camera tripod at Berlusconi, injuring him slightly on the head.
(Additional reporting by Roberto Landucci; writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Philippa Fletcher)