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Robert Fico shooting: suspect charged with attempted assassination of Slovak leader



CNN

Slovak police have charged a man, described as a politically motivated “lone wolf”, with the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is seriously ill and hospitalized after an assassination attempt that shocked the eastern European country. East.

Fico was conscious and able to speak Thursday afternoon, according to his longtime ally and Slovak President-elect Peter Pellegrini who visited him in hospital.

He said the prime minister was still in serious condition after being shot five times at close range and undergoing surgery.

The assassination attempt shook the central European country and sparked global condemnation. Slovak Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said the suspect told law enforcement that his action was motivated by his disagreement with the government and its reforms.

The 59-year-old populist leader, who returned to power last year and whose controversial policy changes have sparked protests in recent weeks, was attacked on Wednesday after an off-site government meeting in the town of Handlova.

Šutaj Eštok said the police were following only one investigation theory: the attack was politically motivated.

He said the suspect told law enforcement that he disagreed with Fico’s policies and decided to act after the recent presidential election, which saw an ally of Fico – Pellegrini – emerge victorious.

“The reasons (given by the suspect) were the decision to abolish the special prosecutor’s office, the decision to stop providing military assistance to Ukraine, the reform of the public broadcasting service and the dismissal of the chairman of the judicial council” , said Šutaj Eštok.

He said the suspect was not a member of any extremist group, calling him a “lone wolf” who had previously participated in anti-government protests.

The suspected shooter was identified by several local media. Asked if the 71-year-old man described in some media as Juraj C. from Levice, a town in southwestern Slovakia, was the suspect, prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Zuzana Drobová said. told CNN on Thursday: “I can confirm that he is indeed a suspect. the person who has been charged.

Slovak media reported that the shooter was a writer and poet. The Slovak Writers’ Association said Wednesday that the name identified in local media was a member of the group.

The prime minister had approached a small crowd of people waiting to meet him, when the suspected gunman in the crowd rushed forward and shot him five times from the other side of a barrier. security. Footage from the scene shows the injured prime minister being placed in a vehicle by his team, before it fled with him inside. No one else was injured in the attack.

The suspected shooter was identified by several local media outlets as a 71-year-old man from southern Slovakia.

There has been no official confirmation of the shooter’s identity, but his face was clearly visible in some video footage of the attack and his subsequent arrest.

Slovak media reported that the shooter was a writer and poet. The Slovak Writers’ Association said Wednesday that the name identified in local media was a member of the group.

Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

Security officers move Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico into a car after a shooting, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP

Rescuers carry gunshot wound Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Dramatic footage from the scene of the attack shows the gunman approaching Fico and shooting him at point-blank range through a security barrier.

The injured prime minister is then seen being placed in a vehicle by his team, before it flees with him inside.

Fico was first rushed to a local hospital and then flown to a large trauma center in the nearby town of Banská Bystrica, where he spent more than five hours in surgery, according to hospital officials. hospital. Authorities said he was shot, among other things, in the stomach.

Hospital director Miriam Lapuníková said Thursday that Fico was “stabilized but in very serious condition” and would remain in the hospital’s intensive care unit. She added that the hospital had two surgical teams operating on the prime minister.

On Thursday morning, Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kaliňák said Fico’s condition “has stabilized overnight and further measures are being taken to improve his health.” The situation is really serious.

The assassination attempt caused shock waves throughout the country. Kaliňák and Šutaj Eštok gave an emotional press conference outside the hospital on Wednesday evening, saying the leader was “fighting for his life.”

Visibly shaken and sometimes searching for words, the two ministers seemed deeply shocked by the attack. Later in the press conference, the two men took a more combative tone, attributing the attack to “hate” spread by “certain people” and the media.

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images/FILE

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, April 18, 2024.

Fico is Slovakia’s most powerful legislator. Unlike the president, whose role is more ceremonial and limited in scope, the prime minister occupies the rank of decision-making head of government.

Slovaks have been deeply divided over the country’s direction and position in the world since Fico returned to power last year. Supporters see Fico as a caring leader who has their best interests at heart; Critics say he is a populist whose pro-Russian leanings pose major risks to the country.

Slovakia’s defense and interior ministers blamed the rise in hate speech and divisions on the country’s political atmosphere, which they said led to the assassination attempt.

As prime minister, Fico made a major turnaround in Slovakia’s foreign policy and its previously unwavering support for Ukraine, pledging to end the country’s military support for kyiv and promising to block Ukraine’s ambitions within NATO.

The government is also trying to close the public service broadcaster and replace it with a new national broadcaster that would be under tighter state control.

The reforms were extremely divisive and led to months of largely peaceful protests.

Fico served as Slovak prime minister for more than a decade, first between 2006 and 2010, and then from 2012 to 2018.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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