World News 16 Mayıs 2024

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt

Slovakia’s prime minister is fighting for his life and undergoing surgery after being shot multiple times.

Robert Fico was airlifted to hospital and a suspect, reported to be 71 years old, was detained at the scene.

The shooting happened on Wednesday afternoon in Handlova, about 85 miles (136km) from the capital Bratislava, after a meeting at a cultural centre.

Follow live: Slovak prime minister in ‘life-threatening condition’

Slovakia‘s interior minister said there was a “clear political motivation” behind the attack, while local TV said Mr Fico was hit in the stomach.

The 59-year-old was taken to a local hospital and then flown to a larger facility in Banska Bystrica.

“The next few hours will decide,” said a post on Mr Fico’s Facebook page.

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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Security rushed Mr Fico into a car after the incident. Pic: Reuters

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Slovak PM bundled into car

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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The man detained is said to be 71 years old. Pic: Reuters


Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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Pic: Reuters

The prime minister was still in surgery on Wednesday evening, said the country’s defence minister, who described his condition as “extraordinarily serious”.

Interior minister Matus Sutaj-Estok told reporters outside the hospital that the gunman had fired five shots.

Two witnesses told local news outlet Diary N about the moment the shooting happened.

“I was just going to shake his hand,” said one.

“When the shots rang out, I almost became deaf,” said the other, who did not want to give her name.

She said there were three or four shots and that Mr Fico fell to the floor with blood on his chest and head.

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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The defence minister (left) and interior minister gave an update outside hospital. Pic: AP

Other witnesses said the gunman used a friendly nickname to call out to the prime minister as he approached a crowd of supporters.

Slovak media said he was a former security guard and an author of poetry collections.

‘A polarising political bruiser’

By Darren McCaffrey, political correspondent

Robert Fico has been in Slovak politics for decades, even before the country of Slovakia existed.

A towering figure, he is a political bruiser who has been polarising at home and throughout Europe.

His election last year seemed almost unimaginable until recently, after Fico was forced to resign following the murder of a famous journalist and allegations of corruption.

It appeared his political career was over.

However, he bounced back on a campaign to end military support for Ukraine.

He is also resistant to sanctions on Russia, a conservative on social issues and he attacks the EU project.

This populist approach has a large constituency with mainly rural, older, conservative voters helping him to a third term.

But not with everyone, his party did receive the largest number of votes, though it only amounted to 23%.

Slovakia, like many of its neighbours, is deeply divided with younger, more metropolitan voters angry with the nationalistic approach to politics.

They tend to be more pro-EU, in favour of Ukrainian support and liberal.

There is also widespread concern about an authoritarian approach to politics, curbing of media freedoms and opposition parties.

The result is a polarised country with a polarising prime minister who has never shown any sign of wanting reconciliation.

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Who is Robert Fico?

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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Pic: AP


Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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The prime minister was taken to a hospital in the town of Banska. Pic: AP

Robert Fico on the world stage

Robert Fico’s election victory last autumn meant NATO had another leader – alongside Hungary’s Victor Orban – who is sympathetic to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

He has previously opposed EU sanctions on Russia – and has been against Ukraine joining the defence treaty.

He believes the US and other nations should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Mr Fico also repeated Mr Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country need protection.

Critics have also voiced increasing fears Mr Fico would abandon Slovakia’s pro-Western course.

To read more, click here.

World leaders – including Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden – have been quick to condemn the shooting.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called it a “vile attack”, while Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said it was “shocking”.

“News of the cowardly assassination attempt on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico shocks me deeply,” said German leader Olaf Scholz.

“Violence must have no place in European politics.”

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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About 5.5 million people live in the central European country

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk posted on X: “Shocking news from Slovakia. Robert, my thoughts are with you in this very difficult moment.”

Mr Fico is a three-time premier in Slovakia and a stalwart of the country’s political scene.

However, he is a divisive figure, with many critical of his more sympathetic stance towards Russian President Vladimir Putin and views on LGBTQ rights.

He won elections in September after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

Suspect held as Slovak leader fights for life after assassination attempt
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President Putin said Mr Fico’s shooting was a “monstrous” crime with “no justification”.

In a Telegram post, he wished him “a speedy and full recovery”, adding: “I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man.

“I very much hope that these qualities will help him to survive this difficult situation.”

US President Joe Biden said his thoughts were “with his (Fico’s) family and the people of Slovakia”.

“We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist,” said a statement.

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