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Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico in "stable but still very serious" condition after assassination attempt

Slovak leader shot in assassination attempt
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico shot in assassination attempt 01:33

Bratislava, Slovakia — Slovakia's populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times Wednesday and left in a life-threatening condition, according to his Facebook page and the Slovak government. The shooting took place in the town of Handlova, about 90 miles northeast of the capital Bratislava, as Fico emerged from a government meeting, shocking the small country and reverberating across Europe.

Slovak Deputy Prime Minster Tomas Taraba later told BBC News that Fico's surgery went "well" and added: "I guess that at the end he will survive."

Early Thursday, the hospital said Fico's condition was "stable but still very serious."

Defense Minister Robert Kalina had told reporters on Wednesday outside the hospital where Fico was being treated for his wounds that the 59-year-old pro-Russian leader was still being treated several hours after being shot in the abdomen.

Kalina had said an operation on Fico was not yet complete and described his condition as "extraordinarily serious."

At least four shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of the capital, where Fico was meeting with supporters, the government said.

A suspect was in custody after being detained at the scene, and an initial investigation found "a clear political motivation" behind the assassination attempt, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said as he briefed reporters alongside the defense minister. Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár also called it an assassination attempt in a social media post. 

Fico was transported first by car, and then by helicopter to a regional hospital as it was deemed to urgent to move him on the ground.

Deputy speaker of parliament Lubos Blaha confirmed the incident during a session of parliament and adjourned the legislature until further notice, the Slovak TASR news agency said. 

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is transported from a helicopter on a stretcher by medics and his security detail to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, where he was being treated for multiple gunshot wounds, May 15, 2024. AFP/Getty

Police quickly sealed off the scene and photos and video showed at least one person being taken into custody. Slovak media outlets said the suspect was a 71 year old man. 

There were no reports of other suspects on the loose, and no immediate details about a motive for the shooting of the highly divisive, veteran politician. 

Video from the scene showed security personnel rushing the wounded premier into a car before driving away at speed. He was transferred to a helicopter and cameras then captured him being rolled on a stretcher, covered by blankets, into a hospital in the city of Banska Bystrica.

Shooting incident of Slovak PM Robert Fico after Slovak government meeting in Handlova
A person is detained after a shooting incident in which Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was injured after a meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. Radovan Stoklasa/REUTERS

Fico's political history and leanings  

Fico has served in his nation's top job for a total of about 10 years — longer than any predecessor, according to the BBC — over the course of three terms.

Fico 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. 

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond, but his return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American message led to even greater worries among fellow European Union members that he would lead his country further from the Western mainstream.

He was forced from office previously amid allegations of corruption, even being linked to the assassination of a journalist who had investigated his premiership.

Critics have worried that Slovakia, which is a member of the European Union, would abandon its pro-Western course under Fico and follow the path of Hungary's populist, autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russia's Vladimir Putin.

FILE PHOTO: Slovak PM Robert Fico visits Berlin
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 24, 2024. Nadja Wohlleben/REUTERS

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

The shooting comes three weeks ahead of crucial European Union Parliament elections, in which populist and hard-right parties in the 27-nation bloc appear poised to make gains.

Slovak, U.S. and European leaders react

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, a political opponent to Fico, condemned the "brutal and ruthless" attack on the premier.

"A physical attack on the prime minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy," Caputova said in a televised statement. "Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we've been witnessing in society leads to hateful actions. Please, let's stop it."

Slovakia's major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, canceled a planned protest against a controversial government plan to overhaul public broadcasting, which 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."

President Biden said he was alarmed to hear about the attack. "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. "We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist."

There was swift reaction from European leaders from across the political spectrum, with overwhelming condemnation of the attack on Fico. 

Prime Minister Of Hungary Viktor Orban At The European Council
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico at a European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2024. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the social media platform X that he was "shocked and appalled" by the attempt on Fico's life.

"I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico," Hungary's Orbán said in a social media post. "We pray for his health and quick recovery!"

"I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico," Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU's governing EU Commission said in a post. "Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good."

Slovakia Political Map
A map shows Slovakia, with capital Bratislava and other major cities labeled, along with neighboring countries. Getty/iStockphoto

In Kyiv, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who's military is currently fending off years-long invasion by Russia, also condemned the shooting, saying: "We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring 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."

Fico has publicly opposed Western nations' supplying Ukraine with weapons for its defense against the Russian invasion.

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