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Man accused of shooting Slovak PM had ‘political motivation’, minister says

Slovakia’s interior minister said Thursday that a “lone wolf” had been accused in shooting it seriously hurt Prime Minister Robert Fico and prompted a second-guessing of the leaders of a deeply divided society.

Fico was in serious but stable condition on Thursday, a hospital official said, after the populist leader was punched several times during a assassination attempt which shook the small country and reverberated across the continent a few weeks before the European elections.

THE assassination attempt shocked the small central European nation, with many attributing the attack in part to the extreme political polarization that has divided the country.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said on Wednesday that an initial investigation had revealed “a clear political motivation” behind the attack on Fico while he was attending a government meeting in a former mining town. However, he said Thursday that the charged suspect was a lone wolf who “did not belong to any political group.”

The minister did not specify what the motivation was. Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond, and his return to power Last year, his pro-Russian, anti-American message sparked even greater concerns among other European Union members that his country was abandoning its pro-Western path.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, January 24, 2024.

Nadja Wohlleben/Reuters


The attack on Fico came at a time of sharp divisions in Slovakia, as thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly gathered in the capital and across the country to protest his policies. It also comes just before the June elections for the European Parliament.

Slovakia’s outgoing and incoming presidents – political rivals – showed up together to call on Slovaks to overcome their increasingly tense political differences for the good of the country.

Outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, an opponent of Fico, said Thursday that the country’s political party leaders would meet to try to restore calm, saying the attack was a reflection of an increasingly polarized society.

“Let’s get out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations,” Caputova said at a news conference in the capital Bratislava. “What happened yesterday was an individual act. But the tense atmosphere of hatred was our collective work.”

President-elect Peter Pellegrini called on political parties to suspend or scale back their campaigns for the European elections, which will be held June 6-9, to avoid “clashes and mutual accusations between politicians.”

“If there is something that the Slovak people urgently need today, it is at least a basic agreement and unity within the Slovak political representation. And if not a consensus , so please at least civilized ways to discuss with each other,” Pelligrini said.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is carried from a helicopter on a stretcher by medics and his security guards after being shot.

AFP/Getty


Fico’s government, elected last September, sparked controversy by suspending arms deliveries to Ukraine, and plans to amend the penal code to remove a special anti-corruption prosecutor and take control of public media. His critics fear he will lead Slovakia – a NATO country of 5.4 million – down a more autocratic path.

Zuzana Eliasova, a resident of the capital Bratislava, said the attack on Fico was a “shock” for the nation and an attack on democracy at a time when political tensions were already high.

“I think a lot of people, if not society as a whole, will examine their conscience, because the polarization here is huge between all parts of society,” she said.

Doctors operated on Fico for five hours, whose life was initially in danger, according to the director of the FD Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, Miriam Lapunikova. He is being treated in an intensive care unit.

Five shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 135 kilometers northeast of the capital, government officials said.

Slovak police have not provided any information on the identity of the shooter. But unconfirmed media reports suggest he is a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet and who may have previously worked as a security guard at a shopping center in the southwest of the country.


US official reveals shooting of Slovak leader, arms transfer to Israel and more

The Slovak Security Council was due to meet on Thursday in the capital Bratislava to discuss the situation, a government office said, adding that a cabinet meeting would follow.

Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year, after serving as prime minister twice. He and his Smer party have most often been described as left-wing populists, although he has also been compared to right-wing politicians like the nationalist prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Viktor Orban.

Fico’s return has sparked concern among his critics that he and his party – long marred by scandal – could push Slovakia away from the Western mainstream. He promised a tough stance against migration and non-governmental organizations and campaigned against LGBTQ+ rights.

Despite the controversy surrounding Fico’s leadership, condemnation of the attack came from both his allies and adversaries. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to President Caputova on Wednesday, expressing his support and wishing the Prime Minister a speedy and full recovery.

“This atrocious crime cannot be justified,” Putin said in the message released by the Kremlin. “I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-willed person. I sincerely hope that these personal qualities will help him overcome this difficult situation.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also 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.

News Source : www.cbsnews.com
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