Premier Silvio Berlusconi returned to a busy political schedule Monday after a monthlong recovery from an attack that broke his nose and two teeth.
Berlusconi said he was feeling well as he arrived at his Rome residence, cheered by a group of supporters holding up a ''Welcome Back'' banner. He met with his coalition allies to set the agenda for the new year, including fiscal and justice reforms.
The image-conscious Berlusconi touched his left cheek and pointed out to reporters that there was hardly any scar visible on his face. Berlusconi was hit in Milan on Dec 13, when a man threw the statuette of Milan's cathedral at his face during a rally. The 73-year-old leader was hospitalized for a few days and has largely remained away from the public.
Berlusconi's popularity has increased after the attack in Milan, polls have shown. The images of his bloody and frightened face raised sympathy, as did photos of the premier leaving the hospital with bandages on his face. Berlusconi says he has forgiven attacker Massimo Tartaglia, who has been described as mentally ill and remains in custody.
The attack also pushed to the back burner a sex scandal that had engulfed the premier over his purported fondness for young women.
''I believe that modernizing the country is indispensable. It's worth working on this for all of us,'' Berlusconi told reporters upon his arrival from Milan.
The justice reform has been in the works for months, since legislation granting immunity from prosecution to the premier and other top officials while in office was thrown out in October. As a result, Berlusconi faces two trials in Milan, one on tax fraud and the other on corruption.
The premier has always denied wrongdoing and accused Milan's magistrates of orchestrating a politically motivated persecution against him. Berlusconi's allies have been looking for ways to shield the premier from the trials, leading to accusations that any such measure would be tailor-made for him.
Berlusconi did not discuss details of any possible measures on Monday, but said the notion that a reform of the justice system would be done to his advantage outraged him. He said any new law would be ''for the freedom'' of all.
Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said the government would push for quick passage of judicial reforms to ensure swifter trials for any citizen as well as measures that would protect ''the right to govern'' for top officials, like Berlusconi, who are being prosecuted.
Alfano denied that the law would be ''tailor-made'' for Berlusconi.
Along with the justice reform, Berlusconi wants to implement his ambitious and long-standing plans to change Italy's tax system and the country's institutions, which reflect a postwar architecture many say is outdated. He also faces local elections that will be a test of his government's strength in such key regions as Lazio, which includes the Italian capital.
A problematic relationship with close ally Gianfranco Fini over the future of their party also lingers.
New York Times has contributed to the report.
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