Polls give Italy’s PM little yuletide cheer

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The attack by a mentally disturbed man that left Silvio Berlusconi with a broken nose has boosted the embattled Italian prime minister’s ratings, but latest opinion polls give his centre-right government little Christmas cheer.

An IPR poll published on Monday by Repubblica, a pro-opposition daily newspaper, gave the 73-year-old prime minister a 48 per cent rating among Italians, up three points since the attack on December 13, but leaving him still 10 points lower than a year ago.

The confidence rating in his government remained unchanged at 40 per cent of voters – also down 10 points over the year.

Mr Berlusconi spent four nights in hospital last week after Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old with a history of mental problems, hurled a miniature replica of Milan’s gothic cathedral in his face while he was signing autographs in a Milan square. Doctors also advised him to take a two-week break from public engagements.

On Sunday he addressed a rally of supporters in Verona, but by telephone, declaring that a “climate of hate” driven by his critics had spurred the assault.

While the attack shocked many Italians conscious of their country’s history of political violence, and prompted a considerable outpouring of public sympathy, it has apparently done little to heal divisions within his coalition. Moves by his People of Liberty party to pass legislation that would block two court cases against Mr Berlusconi continue to run into internal resistance.

Mr Berlusconi – stripped by the constitutional court of his immunity from prosecution in October – is seeking a new law that would put a cap on the length of certain trials, including two cases where he is accused of corrupting justice and fraud.

The billionaire media mogul denies the charges and says he is the victim of a leftwing witch-hunt.

On Monday, Il Giornale, a daily paper owned by the Berlusconi family, continued its attacks on Gianfranco Fini, a dissenting voice in the coalition and a possible successor to the prime minister.

Despite calls by some allies for snap elections, the latest polls vindicate Mr Berlusconi’s reluctance to go back to the electorate three years early. According to IPR, the Democratic party, the main opposition party, is maintaining its support at 41 per cent since the assault on the prime minister, up from 29 per cent a year ago.

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