Credit: Robert Fico, via Facebook

Slovak PM Fico In Stable Condition In Hospital After Surviving Assassination Attempt

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico (Smer-SD) was shot by an attacker in Handlova, central Slovakia, yesterday afternoon. Slovak Environment Minister Tomas Taraba told the BBC late last night that Fico has undergone surgery and his life is not in danger. 

The newspaper Dennik N reported that the prime minister was conscious after the surgery.

Shortly after 8 pm, Slovak Defence and Interior Ministers Robert Kalinak (Smer-SD) and Matus Sutaj Estok (Hlas-SD) told reporters that Fico’s condition was critical and his surgery was still underway. Earlier, authorities had said Fico was in a life-threatening condition.

According to witnesses, the incident occurred when Fico, 59, was walking towards a crowd to greet supporters in the main square of Handlova, following a meeting of the Slovak cabinet, at around 2:40 pm. Five shots were fired, according to a video shared by Pluska.sk, and Fico subsequently fell to the ground. One witness said she noticed bloody wounds on his chest and head.

Security forces subsequently pacified the attacker, but panic broke out at the scene. Videos circulating on social media show people running away, and others watching as police arrested the suspect.

Fico was airlifted to F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital in the regional capital Banska Bystrica, as his condition was deemed too critical to survive the journey to Bratislava.

“As far as I know, the operation went well – and I think he will survive in the end. He is not in life-threatening condition at the moment,” Taraba (SNS) told the BBC. “He was badly injured – one projectile hit his abdomen, the other hit a joint.”

Sutaj Estok (Hlas-SD) said at an evening press conference that it was a politically motivated attempted assassination.

The suspected perpetrator, a 71-year-old man named by media outlets as Juraj Cintula, has been arrested. The Markiza television channel reported that the attacker was a writer from the town of Levice in South Slovakia, and had arrived at the scene of the shooting in his own car.

Aktuality.sk reported that the gun fired several times at the prime minister was apparently legally owned by the attacker. It added that the man had published several poetry collections in the past and worked for a private security service in 2016, during which time he himself was the victim of a shopping mall attack.

Slovak media later reported on a video circulating on social media, which apparently showed the alleged attacker shortly after his arrest. The video shows a handcuffed elderly man sitting in a corridor, saying he disagrees with the government’s policies, specifically its efforts to make changes to the public broadcaster RTVS. It is unclear from the roughly 20-second recording who made it and how it became public.

The attack was strongly condemned by senior Slovak, Czech and world politicians.

“The news that Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been shot is shocking,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS). “I wish the Prime Minister to get well as soon as possible. Violence must not be tolerated, it must have no place in society.”

President Petr Pavel described the act as reprehensible, whatever its motivation. The president said the attack should be a warning of where deepening aggression in society can lead.

Foreign Minister chief Jan Lipavsky also spoke of his shock. “I absolutely condemn violence in politics. I wish the prime minister every strength and a speedy recovery,” he wrote.

“I pray for Robert Fico,” wrote the opposition ANO leader and former Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a Slovak native. “Good luck to him, to all his loved ones and to the whole of Slovakia.”

“Violence does not belong in politics. It doesn’t belong anywhere at all. I unequivocally and strongly condemn the attack on the Slovak prime minister,” said Deputy Prime Minister Vit Rakusan (STAN). He later assured Slovaks that the Czech Republic was with them in this difficult moment.

In response to the incident, the deputy speaker of the Slovak parliament indefinitely suspended the parliament, which had begun discussing a new law on public television and radio at an emergency session in the morning.

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