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Berlusconi could have been killed: minister

world Updated: Dec 15, 2009 14:28 IST

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Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has said that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi could have been killed when he was attacked on Sunday after a political rally in the northern city of Milan.

Maroni expressed his concern Monday about the lapse in security after meeting senior police and political leaders in the city to discuss the incident.

"He was at risk of being seriously injured, or killed," said Maroni, adding that the attack was "a very serious event".

Maroni was expected to report to the lower house of parliament on Tuesday after meeting the city's chief officer Gian Valerio Lombardi and chief of police Vincenzo Indolfi for a "complete and detailed" account of what happened to the prime minister.

Berlusconi was recovering in San Raffaele hospital in Milan Monday with two broken teeth, a broken nose and other facial injuries and was expected to remain there for at least another day.

He was reportedly having difficulty eating but had asked for the daily newspapers when he woke up.

The prime minister was struck in the face by a man holding a small replica of Milan's landmark cathedral as he shook hands with supporters and signed autographs after a political rally in front of the city's cathedral, the Duomo, late Sunday.

Maroni also expressed concern about support for the violence expressed on various Facebook websites.

"Supporting violence is a crime," Maroni said, referring to the Facebook sites that sprang up immediately after the attack. "We are worried because the web can really influence many people and also minors."

Less than an hour after Berlusconi was attacked Sunday, Internet users of the social networking site Facebook began creating pages supporting the attacker, Massimo Tartaglia.

Groups such as "We are all Massimo Tartaglia" and "Whoever attacked Berlusconi must be sanctified" sprang up almost immediately.

But the attack also generated a wave of support for the injured premier.

One group called "We support Silvio Berlusconi against the fans of Massimo Tartaglia" has attracted more than 381,000 supporters.

Meanwhile, questions are still being asked about how Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old electronics engineer with no previous criminal record, was able to get close enough to Berlusconi to strike him in the face.

Berlusconi, 73, has a number of bodyguards, some from the police, special forces and others from his own company Fininvest.

He travels in a bullet-proof car with a convoy of armoured vehicles and guards armed with automatic weapons.

It is not the first time that Berlusconi has been assaulted in public. He was attacked on Piazza Navona in Rome on New Years Eve 2004 by a man who threw a camera tripod at him.