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Berlusconi's popularity rises after attack: poll

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s approval rating has risen back above 50 percent after an attack against him sparked a wave of sympathy even among opposition voters, an opinion poll showed on Sunday.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (C) leaves the San Raffaele hospital in Milan December 17, 2009. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

Berlusconi, 73, was struck in the face a week ago by a man who broke his nose and teeth after a rally in Milan.

An opinion poll by ISPO published in Corriere della Sera newspaper said the aggression had boosted Berlusconi’s popularity to 55.9 percent, compared to 48.6 percent in mid-November.

Respected pollster Renato Mannheimer said the rise in popularity was most evident among young voters and practicing Catholics. But the approval rating improved even among center-left voters, with 17 percent giving a positive opinion.

The December 13 attack against Berlusconi shocked many Italians and drew comparisons with the dark years of political violence that bloodied the country in the 1970s and 1980s.

The attacker, 42-year-old Massimo Tartaglia, had a history of mental illness and no links to any political movement, but Berlusconi’s allies blamed the assault on a climate of hatred fueled by the opposition.

Berlusconi, whose approval ratings had been sliding amid a string of sex scandals and mounting legal woes, told a rally of supporters by telephone on Sunday that months of mud-slinging against him had influenced Tartaglia.


“It’s clear to everybody that if a prime minister is said to corrupt teenagers and court witnesses, someone who kills press freedom, is a mobster, a mass killer and a tyrant, then a weak mind can become convinced that killing the tyrant would make him a national hero,” ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.

The media tycoon, who left hospital on Thursday and is convalescing near Milan, added: “Two out of three Italians are on our side in the belief that love and solidarity always win against envy and hatred.”

Politicians from across the spectrum have expressed their solidarity to Berlusconi and called for dialogue, but Italy remains very polarized in its attitude toward him.

Mannheimer said that based on a number of surveys in the past few days, 20 to 25 percent of Italians hailed the attacker, believing that Berlusconi “is dangerous for the country.”

The assault capped a tough year for Berlusconi. His wife asked for divorce in May accusing him of consorting with minors after he attended the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model.

Later an escort alleged that she had spent the night at the prime minister’s residence and recorded their intimate conversation. Berlusconi has said he is “not a saint” adding that he has never paid for sex.

In October, the Constitutional Court lifted his immunity from prosecution while in office, allowing corruption and tax fraud trials against him to resume.

And this month, a mafia hitman-turned-witness linked him to a 1993 mafia bombing campaign, although another mobster has cast doubt on that testimony.

Berlusconi denies any wrongdoing and has blamed “communist” magistrates and leftist media for the accusations against him.