Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico shot in assassination attempt

nbc news​​​

By Patrick Smith and 
Jana Kasperkevic

    The populist prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, was "fighting for his life" Wednesday after he was shot multiple times in an "attempted assassination," his party's officials said.

    Slovak Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák told reporters that doctors operated into the evening and that Fico's condition was extremely serious.

    "We've experienced a very tragic day, which means the prime minister is fighting for his life," Kaliňák said, according to local reports.

    Late Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba offered an update to the BBC, saying Fico was "not in a life-threatening situation at this moment."

    Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok earlier reporters that the gunman shot Fico five times. A suspect was arrested, officials said; a motive was not immediately clear.

    Šutaj Eštok said an initial investigation found “a clear political motivation.”

    Fico’s Facebook page said he was taken to a hospital in Banská Bystrica rather than in the capital, Bratislava, because "it would take too long considering the urgency of the matter."

    At a news conference after the attack, President Zuzana Čaputová confirmed an arrest of a suspect and said police would provide further information.

    “Until then, let us not pass quick judgments, please,” she said.

    A reporter for the Slovak news agency TASR said several shots were fired in the town of Handlova, about 110 miles northeast of Bratislava. Fico was greeting members of the public after a government meeting, it reported.

    Čaputová confirmed the attack on Fico, 59, shortly after the news broke.

    “Utterly shocked by today’s brutal and reckless attack on #Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, which I condemn in strongest possible terms,” she said in a message on X. “I wish him lot of strength in this critical moment and early recovery. My thoughts are also with his family and close ones,” she added.

    Photos on news agencies showed a man appearing to be detained in Handlova. Video captured at the scene and shared on social media showed another man being carried into a car by security staffers in dark suits.

    Fico was elected in October as leader of the leftist Smer party, meaning “direction,” standing on a pro-Russian and anti-American populist platform.

    He had already served as prime minister twice before he returned to the role last year as part of a power-sharing deal with two other parties. Fico faced criticism this month as thousands of Slovaks rallied against a plan to overhaul public radio and television in the country of 5.4 million, sparking fears of government control and a shift away from pro-Western ties.

    Fico has found common cause with Viktor Orbán, the right-wing authoritarian leader of Hungary, Slovakia's neighbor to the south, in ending support for Ukraine's defense against Russia's invasion and criticizing Western support for Kyiv. Slovakia also shares a border with Ukraine.

    Both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave public support to Fico.

    Putin said in a letter to Čaputová shared by the Kremlin that the "heinous crime cannot be justified," and Zelenskyy posted on X that "every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere."

    President Joe Biden also wished Fico a "speedy recovery" and said in a statement that the U.S. Embassy was in contact with the Slovakian government and "ready to assist."

    Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, also strongly condemned the attempt on Fico's life.

    “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good,” she said in a post on X.

    Slovakia is an E.U. member.

    Slovakia’s main opposition parties canceled a planned protest against a plan to overhaul public broadcasting that they say would give Fico's government full control of public radio and television, according to The Associated Press.

    “We absolutely and strongly condemn violence and today’s shooting of Premier Robert Fico,” Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Šimečka said. “At the same time we call on all politicians to refrain from any expressions and steps which could contribute to further increasing the tension.”

    The country’s incoming president, Peter Pellegrini, a close Fico ally, said the incident represented "an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy."

    He added, "If we express different political opinions with guns in the squares and not in polling stations, we endanger everything we have built together in 31 years of Slovak sovereignty."

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