Police identified the gunman as Luigi Preiti, in his 40s, from Calabria, a southern region that has long suffered from high unemployment and organized crime.
Having fired several shots at the two officers on duty outside the prime minister’s office, he shouted “Shoot me, shoot me” to other officers nearby, police said.
One of the two officers was shot in the neck and was in serious but not life-threatening condition, while the other was shot in the leg and less seriously hurt.
In a surreal scene, outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti received the official trumpet salute in the courtyard of the Renaissance Palazzo Chigi before walking across the cordoned-off square past police crouching over the scene of the shooting.
Newly installed Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said the attack appeared to be an “isolated act” and did not suggest any wider security threat. But there were immediate calls for politicians to try to calm a volatile public mood.
“All political forces have to work together to lower the level of tension that the economic, social and institutional climate has already created,” said center-left parliamentarian Emanuele Fiano.
Letta, 46, the moderate deputy head of the center-left Democratic Party, on Saturday ended two months of political stalemate after February’s inconclusive election when he united former political rivals in a broad coalition government.
The mix of center-right and center-left politicians and unaffiliated technocrats was largely welcomed in Italy’s mainstream press Sunday, especially for the record seven female ministers and the relatively young average age.
But the political risks that Letta faces were spelled out Sunday by a close ally of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi who is a core stakeholder in the government.
Renato Brunetta, lower house leader of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said the government would fall unless Letta promised in his maiden speech to swiftly abolish an unpopular housing tax and repay the 2012 levy to taxpayers.
Letta is expected to set out his government’s plans in Parliament on Monday and will need to win a vote of confidence in both houses to be fully empowered.
“If the prime minister doesn’t make this precise commitment, we will not give him our support in the vote of confidence,” Brunetta told the daily Il Messaggero.
Brunetta, who was a candidate for the post of economy minister, said that during negotiations for the formation of the government, Letta had “given his word” on the abolition and repayment of the tax, which would leave an 8-billion-euro hole in public accounts.