Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico shot and in hospital

Click to play video: 'Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico shot and in hospital, suspect arrested'
Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico shot and in hospital, suspect arrested
WATCH: Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico shot and in hospital, suspect arrested – May 15, 2024

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times and taken to hospital Wednesday, according to a post on his Facebook page and government statements that called the shooting an attempted assassination.

The Facebook post said Fico “has been shot multiple times and is currently in life-threatening condition.”

“The next few hours will decide,” it concluded.

Doctors were still fighting for his life several hours after the pro-Russian leader, 59, was hit in the abdomen, Defense Minister Robert Kalina told reporters at the hospital where Fico was being treated for his wounds.

He described Fico’s condition as “extraordinarily serious.”

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Tomas Taraba later told the BBC’s Newshour that Fico was “not in a life-threatening situation at this moment” but was still undergoing surgery.

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Five shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometers northeast of the capital Bratislava, government officials said. Fico was shot after attending a meeting of his government in the town of 16,000, while “meeting with people,” officials said.

A suspect was in custody, and an initial investigation found “a clear political motivation” behind the shooting, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said as he briefed reporters alongside the defense minister.

The message posted to Fico’s Facebook account said he was taken to a hospital in Banská Bystrica, 29 kilometers from Handlova, because it would take too long to get to the capital, Bratislava.

Slovakia’s prime minister was attacked by an armed assailant and hospitalized Wednesday. (AP Graphic).

The deputy speaker of Slovakia’s Parliament, Lubos Blaha, confirmed the shooting during a parliamentary session and adjourned proceedings until further notice, independent Slovak news agency TASR reported.

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President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico, called the incident an attempted “assassination” and “an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy.”

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“If we express other political opinions with pistols in squares, and not in polling stations, we are jeopardizing everything that we have built together over 31 years of Slovak sovereignty,” he said.

The outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, a political rival of Fico, said in her statement she was “shocked” by the “horrific and malicious attack.”

“A physical attack on the Prime Minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy,” she said. “Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we’ve been witnessing in society leads to hateful actions. Please, let’s stop it.”

A Reuters witness said he heard several shots and that he saw a man being detained by police. The Reuters witness said he saw security officials pushing someone into a car and driving off.

Fico, a third-time premier, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party, won Slovakia’s Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

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His government halted arms deliveries to Ukraine, and critics worry that he will lead Slovakia — a nation of 5.4 million that belongs to NATO — to abandon its pro-Western course and follow in the footsteps of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.

Slovakia’s major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, cancelled a planned protest against a controversial government plan to overhaul public broadcasting that they say would give the government full control of public radio and television.

“We absolutely and strongly condemn violence and today’s shooting of Premier Robert Fico,” said Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Simecka. “At the same time we call on all politicians to refrain from any expressions and steps which could contribute to further increasing the tension.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was “alarmed” to hear of the attack and condemned what he called a “horrific act of violence.” He said American diplomats in Slovakia were in close touch with the government and ready to provide assistance.

“Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia,” Biden said in a statement from the White House.

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Condemnations of political violence quickly came from leaders across Europe, where political campaigning is heating up three weeks ahead of elections to choose lawmakers for the European Parliament. Concern is mounting that populist and nationalists similar to Fico could make gains in the 27-member bloc.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned what she described as a “vile attack.”

“Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good,” von der Leyen said in a post on X.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called the incident “shocking,” adding “I wish the premier to get well soon. We cannot tolerate violence, there’s no place for it in society.” The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed Czechoslovakia till 1992.

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

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the social media platform X that he was “shocked and appalled by the shooting.”

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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