Suspect charged with shooting of Slovakian prime minister

Robert Fico was admitted to hospital and underwent emergency surgery for several hours after being shot in the abdomen.

The prime minister was admitted to hospital and underwent emergency surgery for several hours after being shot in the abdomen, ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports

A man has been charged after Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was seriously hurt in a shooting on Wednesday, according to the country’s interior minister.

The populist leader was shot multiple times in an attempt on his life.

Officials have not yet formally named the man charged but it has been widely reported in Slovakian media that he is 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula from the town of Levice.

Mr Fico, 59, was admitted to hospital and underwent emergency surgery for several hours after being hit in the abdomen, Defence Minister Robert Kalinak told reporters at the hospital where he was being treated.

He had said the prime minister was “fighting for his life” and described the situation as “bad” the morning after the attack.

The prime minister had been greeting supporters at an event in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometres northeast of the capital, when he was attacked.

Five shots were fired in total.

A suspect was in custody and an initial investigation found “a clear political motivation” behind the assault, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said as he briefed reporters alongside the defence minister.

A message posted to the prime minister’s Facebook account said he was taken to a hospital in Banská Bystrica, 29 kilometres from Handlova, because it would take too long to get to the capital, Bratislava.

The incident happened just weeks before the European Parliament elections on June 8 and concern is mounting that populist and nationalists could make gains in the 27-member bloc.

Mr Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia, but his return as prime minister in October, which was made on a pro-Russian, anti-American agenda, increased tensions between the small country and its European neighbours.

At the start of his fourth term as prime minister Mr Fico halted arms deliveries to Ukraine, prompting critics to worry he would steer Slovakia away from its pro-Western course and follow more closely in the footsteps of Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Thousands of people in the small nation of 5.4 million have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest his policies.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Robert Kalinak speaks during a press conference with Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok. / Credit: AP

But figures from across the political spectrum expressed their shock at the attack on Mr Fico.

“A physical attack on the prime minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy,” outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, a political rival of Mr Fico, 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.”

President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Mr Fico, called the shooting “an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy”.

“If we express other political opinions with pistols in squares, and not in polling stations, we are jeopardising everything that we have built together over 31 years of Slovak sovereignty.”

The attack has also brought international attention to the small European country and its politics.

US President Joe Biden said he was alarmed by the assassination attempt.

Rescue workers wheel Robert Fico to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica. / Credit: AP

“We condemn this horrific act of violence,” he said in a statement.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the social media platform X that he was “shocked and appalled” by the attempt on Mr Fico’s life, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “vile attack”.

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

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

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the attack as “cowardly” in a post on X, while Hungary’s Viktor Orban said the incident was a “heinous attack” against his “friend”.

This is Mr Fico’s fourth term as prime minister, with him having previously held the position between 2006 and 2010, and from 2012 to 2018.

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