Earlier in the evening Berlusconi had received a rock star welcome at a rally to mark the opening of public membership to the People of Freedom party. Saying that his popularity stood at 63%, he listed the successes of his government, which he said had included saving the world economy by persuading the US government to intervene "after they had left Lehman Brothers to their fate" in order to avoid "the failure of 400 banks, saving the world from an incredible and tremendous crisis".
At one point he interrupted the rally to address protesters who had been chanting "buffoon", saying they should be ashamed of themselves.
Towards the end he boasted that he was still "young and on form", opening his shirt to show that he "wasn't even wearing a vest", before he and a dozen ministers ended the rally with a sing–along of the national anthem.
Minutes later, the assault put an end to what should have been the prime minister's evening of triumph.