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Slovak PM's condition 'very serious' but stable

President urges end to 'vicious circle of hatred' as world denounces attack

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-17 07:36

A man is detained after Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot at in the central town of Handlova on Wednesday. RADOVAN STOKLASA/REUTERS

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico was in a "very serious" but stable condition on Thursday, a hospital official said, after he was shot five times in an assassination attempt decried as "politically motivated".

"During the night, doctors managed to stabilize the patient's condition," Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak told reporters at the hospital where Fico was being treated.

"Unfortunately, the condition is still very serious as the injuries are complicated," said Kalinak, who is also defense minister.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the Banska Bystrica hospital, where the 59-year-old leader was receiving treatment, said Fico underwent a "five-hour surgery carried out by two teams".

On Wednesday, another Fico deputy, Tomas Taraba, said the leader's surgery had gone well.

"He's not in a life-threatening situation at this moment," said Taraba, who is also minister of environment.

President-elect Peter Pellegrini told reporters outside the hospital on Thursday: "He is able to speak but only a few sentences and then he is really, really tired."

Media reported that the suspected gunman was a 71-year-old poet who had worked for a security company in his retirement.

Witnesses alleged that after a government meeting in the central town of Handlova, the suspect shouted to Fico to approach him, offering his hand, after which shots were fired.

The alleged suspect's son told Slovak news site aktuality.sk he had "absolutely no idea what (his) father was thinking, what he was planning, why it happened".

On Thursday, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said a man has been charged with attempted murder, who did not belong to any political group.

The suspect acted alone and had taken part in anti-government protests, he added.

The suspect's actions "were accelerated after the presidential election since he was dissatisfied with its outcome", he told reporters, referring to Pellegrini, Fico's ally who won the presidential election in April and will be inaugurated in June.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sutaj Estok told a news conference that the attack was "politically motivated".

Bringing calm

Outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, an opponent of Fico, said on Thursday that the heads of the country's political parties would meet in an effort to bring calm.

"Let us step out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations," Caputova said at a news conference in the capital Bratislava.

Pellegrini called on political parties to suspend or scale back their campaigns for European elections, which will be held in June, to prevent "standoffs and mutual accusations between politicians".

It was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader in more than 20 years, and spurred global condemnation.

European Council President Charles Michel said he was shocked at the news. "Nothing can ever justify violence or such attacks," he said on X.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on X, "I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the "shocking attack" carried out against Fico, his office said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the shooting as a "monstrous" crime and in a message sent to Caputova stated, "I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to survive this difficult situation."

China strongly condemned the violent attack. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that China was deeply shocked by the attack and had extended sincere sympathies to Fico and his family.

Lubos Blaha, Slovak deputy parliament speaker and deputy chairman of Fico's Smer party, blamed "liberal media" for the attack.

"You, liberal media and political opposition. What hatred you spread against Robert Fico."

Slovakia's biggest opposition party, Progressive Slovakia, has called off a planned protest and called for restraint to avoid escalating tensions.

Fico has served as prime minister since 2023, having previously served in the position from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. He is the longest-serving prime minister in the country's history.

He has been among the few European Union leaders who have opposed sending arms to Ukraine.

Zhao Jia in Beijing and agencies contributed to this story.

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