ROME (Reuters) - Hysterical and tearful messages from Italians imploring Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to persevere after being attacked last year fill a new book that hits stores just as campaigning for regional elections steps up.
Published by the Mondadori company that Berlusconi owns, "Love always wins over envy and hatred" collates some of the 50,000 messages of support that poured in after a mentally unstable man smashed a small statue into the premier's face at a rally in December, breaking his teeth and nose.
Berlusconi, who has been embroiled in sex scandals and a fight with the judiciary, saw his popularity rise just after the attack. But corruption scandals and bungling over ballot lists for regional polls have prompted a slide in ratings recently.
The messages from across Italy to as far away as Vietnam run the gamut from defiant -- "Show them you're indestructible!" -- to desperate and sentimental -- "We beg you, don't abandon us and do clone yourself if you can" -- to verging on hysteria.
"On seeing you covered in blood, my wife grabbed her hair and sobbed as she yelled 'My Madonna, save Silvio!'" wrote Carlo F. "Prime Minister, we're at the edge of a precipice: only you can save us and guarantee a future to our grandchildren. We have prayed for you and will continue to do so every day."
In another, "Grandma Norina" called on Berlusconi's deceased mother for help: "Your mamma in the heavens will protect you and give you the strength and serenity to continue your job."
Others wrote to say they wept, that "I'm hurt like as if my father had been hit" and "Without you I'd leave Italy."
With the book out in stores just as Berlusconi tries to rally voters ahead of the March 28-29 vote, the left-leaning newspaper La Repubblica dismissed it as an election gimmick and mockingly dubbed it "Silvio Ceausescu's little white book."
"It needs to be strongly said that this book at its heart becomes an election flyer, pure propaganda on glossy paper," Francesco Merlo wrote in the daily.
In a foreword to the book, Berlusconi said the solidarity show made up for all the "slander, offences, false accusations" he had faced over the year and that the book was borne out of his desire to give the messages some recognition.
"Just think that in the first two days after the attack I received over 50,000 messages via the Internet, hundreds of faxes and flower bouquets," Berlusconi wrote.
"All the leaders of friendly countries telephoned me. And there was a continuous pilgrimage, first in hospital and then at (family home) Arcore."
A centerfold with statistics on various government projects and texts of two speeches by 73-year-old Berlusconi complete the book, dedicated to "The Italy that knows how to love." A youthful-looking Berlusconi appears on the cover, smiling.