The Italian government may rush through emergency measures to outlaw websites inciting hatred following the attack on Silvio Berlusconi, which left the billionaire premier in hospital with a fractured nose and two broken teeth.
Mr Berlusconi's parliamentary allies have been appalled by the way tens of thousands of people have signed up to a Facebook page that supports Massimo Tartaglia, the man who attacked him, and Roberto Maroni, the interior minister, yesterday promised to block such sites to reduce the risk of what he called "a dangerous spiral of copycat attacks".
From his hospital bed Mr Berlusconi, 73, sent a message to his own website declaring: "Heartfelt thanks to the very many who have sent me messages of closeness and affection. I urge all to remain calm and safe. Love always wins over envy and hatred."
He received messages of support from Vladimir Putin, who praised the way he had behaved "like a real man", and Libya's Colonel Gadaffi, who described the aggression he had suffered as "deplorable." Other world leaders including Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel sent messages of sympathy. He is expected to leave hospital this afternoon, but his doctors are advising him not to undertake public duties for another two weeks.
Mr Berlusconi's assailant, 42-year-old MassimoTartaglia, who faces up to five years in prison if convicted on assault charges, has sent a letter to Mr Berlusconi from his jail cell apologising for what he called his "superficial, cowardly and inconsiderate act". But Mr Maroni told parliament the attack was premeditated and motivated by persistent feelings of anger towards Mr Berlusconi. He claimed that Mr Tartaglia, who has a history of mental illness, had been waiting in the square since the morning, and had armed himself with pepper spray and a resin crucifix as well as the marble miniature of the cathedral, which he eventually flung at the Prime Minister.
A judge will today decide if Mr Tartaglia should remain in jail or be moved to a psychiatric hospital.
As Italian newspapers argued over the security arrangements that allowed the attack to happen, Franscesco Rutelli, an opposition MP who heads a parliamentary commission overseeing Italy's intelligence agencies, called for security arrangements to be urgently reviewed. Members of the crowd told Italian television that they had reported concerns about Mr Tartaglia to security forces before the attack.
But Mr Maroni absolved the security forces of blame, and Andrea Nativi, of the Rome-based Military Centre for Strategic Studies, said: "The security failed because, as usual, Berlusconi did what you should never do: seek direct contact with the crowd."
Mr Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, told Corriere della Sera that the Prime Minister and his supporters feared other attacks, but that Mr Berlusconi would continue to mingle with the crowds because "the key to his success is his charisma". He told a TV interviewer: "He greatly wants to get over this difficult moment. I would be happy if we could slow him down a little."
Italy's ambiguous reaction to the attack was underlined by the news that statuettes of the type hurled at Mr Berlusconi have been selling faster than panettone, the Italian version of Christmas cake. Prices on some Milan souvenir stalls have doubled from €6 to €12, and one trader said he had sold out of the offending marble version.Reuse content