Slovak Prime Minister expected to survive after shooting: NPR

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Rescuers transport shot-wound Slovak Prime Minister to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia on Wednesday.

Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP

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Rescuers transport shot-wound Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia on Wednesday.

Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP

BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times and seriously injured Wednesday, but his deputy prime minister said he believed Fico would survive.

The prime minister was greeting supporters at an event when the assassination attempt took place, shocking the small country and reverberating across weeks before the election.

“I guess in the end he will survive,” Tomas Taraba told the BBC, adding: “His life is not in danger at the moment.”

Doctors fought to save Fico’s life several hours after the 59-year-old pro-Russian leader was shot in the abdomen, Defense Minister Robert Kalina told reporters at the hospital where Fico was being treated .

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Five shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometers northeast of the capital, government officials said. Fico was shot dead while attending a meeting of his government in the town of 16,000 that was once a center of coal mining.

A suspect was in custody and an initial investigation revealed “a clear political motivation” behind the assassination attempt, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said during a briefing to journalists alongside the Minister of defense.

Fico’s pro-Russian, anti-American message

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond, but his return to power last year on the basis of a pro-Russian, anti-American message raised even greater concerns among other members of the European as to the fact that he would distance his country from the Western mainstream. .

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At the start of his fourth term as prime minister, his government cut off arms deliveries to Ukraine and critics fear he will drive Slovakia – a country of 5.4 million people that belongs to the NATO – to abandon its pro-Western path and follow in the footsteps of Hungary. under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thousands of people gathered repeatedly in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.

The attack comes on the eve of the

A post on Fico’s Facebook account said he was taken to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, 29 kilometers from Handlova, because it would take too long to get to the capital, Bratislava.

The attack comes as political campaigning intensifies, three weeks before European elections to choose lawmakers for the European Parliament. There are growing fears that populists and nationalists like Fico could gain ground within the 27-member bloc.

Russian President Vladimir , right, shakes hands with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, August 25, 2016. Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year, after being twice Prime Minister.

Alexandre Zemlianichenko/AP

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, August 25, 2016. Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year, after being twice Prime Minister.

Alexandre Zemlianichenko/AP

But politics, as usual, were put aside as the nation dealt with the shock of the attempt on Fico’s life.

“A physical attack on the prime minister is first and foremost an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy,” outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, Fico’s political rival, said in a televised statement. “Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we witness in society leads to hateful actions. Please let’s stop this.”

Shock reactions in Slovakia and around the world

President-elect Peter Pellegrini, a Fico ally, called the assassination attempt “an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy. If we express other political opinions with guns in the squares, and not in the polling stations, we endanger everything we have built together in recent years.” 31 years of Slovak sovereignty.”

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, talks with people before a cabinet meeting in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, on Wednesday.

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, talks to people before a cabinet meeting in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, on Wednesday.

Radovan Stoklasa/AP

The recent elections that brought Fico and his allies to power have highlighted deep social divisions, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, Slovakia’s eastern neighbor.

Gabor Czimer, a political journalist at Slovak media outlet Ujszo.com, said the results showed that “Slovak society was sharply divided into two camps”: one favorable to Russia and the other in favor of stronger ties with Russia. EU and the West.

“At the same time, I could not imagine that this could lead to physical violence,” Czímer said.

Estok, Slovakia’s interior minister, told reporters outside the hospital that the country was “on the brink of a civil war” because of political tensions.

“Such hateful comments are being made today on social media, so please let’s stop this immediately,” he said.

US President Joe Biden said he was alarmed. “We condemn this horrific act of violence,” he said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on the social network X that he was “shocked and dismayed” by the attack on Fico. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “despicable attack.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the violence against the head of government of a neighboring country.

“Every effort must be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, in any form or in any area,” he said.

Political opponents put aside their differences

The Slovak Parliament has been adjourned until further notice. The main opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, have 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.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday (January 16).

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday (January 16).

Denes Erdos/AP

Slovak progressive leader Michal Simecka called on all politicians “to refrain from any expressions or actions that could contribute to further increasing tension”.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wished the Prime Minister a speedy recovery. “We cannot tolerate violence, it has no place in society.”

The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed Czechoslovakia until 1992.

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