Slovakia's PM Robert Fico 'will survive' assassination attempt

Fico was in a life-threatening condition after being shot several times and underwent an emergency operation

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Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot several times in an assassination attempt, is not in life-threatening situation for now, Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba said on Wednesday.

"I was very shocked," Mr Taraba said. "Fortunately as far as I know the operation went well and I guess in the end he will survive.

"He's not in a life threatening situation at this moment.

Mr Fico, 59, was taken to hospital after being shot in the stomach in Handlova, where the government had been meeting.

The three-time Slovak leader's office earlier said Mr Fico was in a life-threatening condition after being shot several times and underwent an emergency operation.

Witnesses saw bodyguards bundling Mr Fico into a car after the shooting 150km north-east of the capital Bratislava.

Slovak emergency services said a helicopter was sent to bring the populist leader of the EU and Nato member state to hospital.

He was taken to the nearby city of Banská Bystrica because his condition was too acute to travel to Bratislava.

A sitting of parliament in Bratislava was suspended as tempers flared over the shooting, with supporters of Mr Fico pointing the finger at journalists and the opposition.

Shooting suspect identified as 71-year-old writer

A suspect detained for the shooting has been identified as a writer, 71, from the central Slovak town of Levice, the Interior Minister said on Wednesday, after media named the man.

"I think I can confirm this, yes," Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok told reporters when asked about the reports.

Media reports said the suspect, who was detained at the scene of the shooting, was a founder of the Duha (Rainbow) Literary Club.

The reports, which also named him, said he had written three poetry collections and is a member of the official Association of Slovak Writers.

The association confirmed on Facebook that the man had been a member since 2015, and said if he was the shooter, "the membership of this despicable person will be immediately cancelled".

The suspect's son told Slovak news site aktuality.sk that he had "absolutely no idea what father was thinking, what he was planning, why it happened".

He said his father was a legally registered gun owner.

When asked if his father felt any hatred towards Mr Fico, the son said: "I'll tell you this: He didn't vote for him. That's all I can say about it."

Vlasta Kollarova, head of a local library in the man's home town, told the Dennik N daily: "He was rebellious when he was young, but not aggressive".

Several political statements by the man, who AFP has chosen not to name, could be found on social media.

"The world is full of violence and weapons. People seem to be going crazy," he said in a video eight years ago, which was posted online.

In the video, he also spoke about concern over immigration and "hatred and extremism" and said European governments "have no alternative to this chaos".

He also said in the video that he had founded a "Movement Against Violence" in Levice.

The movement, which also has a Facebook page, describes itself as "an emerging political party whose goal is to prevent the spread of violence in society. To prevent war in Europe and the spread of hatred".

Leaders express sympathy

World leaders reacted with shock and condemnation after the assassination attempt.

US President Joe Biden condemned it as a "horrific act of violence," adding that he and his wife Jill "are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia".

Mr Biden said the White House was ready to help Slovakia if needed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: "We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state's head of government.

"Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere."

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shooting a heinous crime.

"I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man," Mr Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.

"I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the "shocking attack carried out today against the Prime Minister of Slovakia", his office said.

Mr Guterres's "thoughts are with the Prime Minister and his loved ones at this difficult moment," spokesman Farhan Haq said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico.

"Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good."

French President Emmanuel Macron posted a message on X.

"Shocked by the shooting of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. I strongly condemn this attack," Mr Macron said.

"My thoughts and solidarity are with him, his family and the people of Slovakia."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: "I am deeply shocked by the news of the cowardly attack on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico."

Mr Scholz also called for an end to "violence in European politics".

"Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak posted on X.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said: "I wish him strength for a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with Robert Fico, his loved ones, and the people of Slovakia.

Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed "deep shock" and stressed her "strongest condemnation of all forms of violence and attacks on the cardinal principles of democracy and freedom".

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said that it "condemns the assassination attempt against the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic" and "wishes (him) good health and a speedy recovery".

"I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico," Hungarian P:rime Minister Viktor Orban said.

"We pray for his health and quick recovery. God bless him and his country."

Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic said: "I am shocked by the attempted assassination of Robert Fico, a great friend to me and to Serbia. Dear friend, I pray for you and for your health."

"Horrified and outraged at the attack on the Slovak Prime Minister," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on X.

"Spain stands with Robert Fico, his family and the Slovak people at this extremely difficult time."

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer posted on X: "The attempt on the life of my Slovak colleague Robert Fico shocks me deeply.

"?Just a few days ago we spoke on the phone and talked intensively about security issues. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery."

The no-nonsense veteran of Slovak politics

A no-nonsense veteran of Slovak politics, Mr Fico has withstood claims of corruption and illiberalism and is known for shifting between pro and anti-EU and US positions to suit his political needs.

Opposition leader Michal Simecka called off a rally and said his supporters “absolutely and strongly condemn the violence” as politicians called for calm.

The shots were fired outside a cultural centre in Handlova where the government had been meeting as part of a tour of the country's regions.

Mr Fico returned to power last year after two previous spells as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018.

Known for his Russia-friendly stance and feuding with the media, he resigned in 2018 amid mass protests sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist.

His left-wing populist party topped the ballot last year after campaigning on boosting social spending and challenging EU policy on issues including Ukraine, migration, climate change and security.

Mr Fico broke with EU policy by halting support for Ukraine, saying “Slovakia and the people in Slovakia have bigger problems”.

He also said he would not allow the arrest of Mr Putin under an international warrant if he ever went to Slovakia.

More recently he has also criticised Russia, shifting tone by saying any peace settlement must respect Ukraine's sovereignty.

Opponents have repeatedly rallied in Bratislava and across Slovakia to protest Mr Fico’s policies ahead of EU elections next month.

One grievance is a proposed media law that critics say will undermine the impartiality of Slovak public television and radio.

His policies have drawn comparisons to Mr Orban, a perennial EU rebel widely accused of leading a slide into authoritarianism at home.

Updated: May 16, 2024, 4:20 AM