Security fails again as intruder walks into Berlusconi's ward

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Italian police have arrested a 26-year-old man who tried to reach the hospital room of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, recovering from an attack on Sunday that left him with a fractured nose and broken teeth.

Milan police said the man, who appears to have psychological problems and is from the northern city of Turin, said he wanted to talk to the conservative leader.

Mr Berlusconi, 73, was struck in the face after a weekend rally when a man with a history of mental illness threw a miniature replica of Milan's cathedral at him. Police said that the man arrested yesterday had entered the hospital at around 2am via the underground car park and took the elevator to the seventh floor, where the Prime Minister is convalescing.

He was immediately detained and searched, but was not carrying any weapons. Police said hockey sticks were found in his car.

The incident is likely to fuel further debate about Mr Berlusconi's security, even though interior minister Roberto Maroni has absolved police and the Prime Minister's bodyguards of blame for Sunday's attack.

The 42-year-old man arrested for that assault, Massimo Tartaglia, hurled the statuette at Mr Berlusconi's face from close range as the Prime Minister was signing autographs after a rally in Milan's central Duomo square. Yesterday a judge upheld Mr Tartaglia's arrest.

Doctors said Mr Berlusconi would be discharged today, a day later than expected, as he was still in pain and had problems eating normally. They said he would have to restrict his public activities for two weeks.

The attack on the popular but divisive Prime Minister has sparked soul-searching among Italian politicians over whether a vitriolic political climate provoked the assault. The government has vowed to rush out new measures including blocking hate sites on the internet.