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Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico in life-threatening condition after apparent assassination attempt

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Bratislava, Slovakia — Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot Wednesday and left in a life-threatening condition, according to his Facebook page and the Slovak government. The shooting took place in the town of Handlova, about 90 miles northeast of the capital Bratislava, as Fico emerged from a government meeting. 

Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár called it an assassination attempt in a social media post. One suspect was detained at the scene as Fico was transported first by car, and then by helicopter to a regional hospital as it was deemed to urgent to move him on the ground.

Deputy speaker of parliament Lubos Blaha confirmed the incident during a session of parliament and adjourned the legislature until further notice, the Slovak TASR news agency said. 

TOPSHOT-SLOVAKIA-POLITICS-SHOOTING
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is transported from a helicopter on a stretcher by medics and his security detail to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, where he was being treated for multiple gunshot wounds, May 15, 2024.

AFP/Getty


Police quickly sealed off the scene and photos and video showed at least one person being taken into custody. Slovak media outlets said the suspect was a 71 year old man. 

There were no reports of other suspects on the loose, and no immediate information about a possible motive for the shooting of the highly divisive, veteran politician. 

Witnesses reported hearing about four shots, according to the BBC, and local media outlets said Fico was hit in the abdomen and possibly an arm or leg. Video from the scene showed security personnel rushing the wounded premier into a car before driving away at speed. He was transferred to a helicopter and camera’s then captured him being rolled on a stretcher, covered by blankets, into a hospital in the city of Banska Bystrica.

Shooting incident of Slovak PM Robert Fico after Slovak government meeting in Handlova
A person is detained after a shooting incident in which Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was injured after a meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024.

Radovan Stoklasa/REUTERS


Fico’s political history and leanings  

Fico has served in his nation’s top job for a total of about 10 years — longer than any predecessor, according to the BBC — over the course of three terms.

Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party, won Slovakia’s Sept. 30 parliamentary elections, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message. 

He was forced from office previously amid allegations of corruption, even being linked to the assassination of a journalist who had investigated his premiership.

Critics have worried that Slovakia, which is a member of the European Union, would abandon its pro-Western course under Fico and follow the path of Hungary’s populist, autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

FILE PHOTO: Slovak PM Robert Fico visits Berlin
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 24, 2024.

Nadja Wohlleben/REUTERS


Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.

The shooting comes three weeks ahead of crucial European Union Parliament elections, in which populist and hard-right parties in the 27-nation bloc appear poised to make gains.

Slovak and European leaders react

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, a political opponent to Fico, condemned the “brutal and ruthless” attack on the premier.

“I’m shocked,” Caputova said. “I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack.”

Slovakia’s major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, canceled a planned protest against a controversial government plan to overhaul public broadcasting, which they say would give the government full control of public radio and television.

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

There was swift reaction from European leaders from across the political spectrum, with overwhelming condemnation of the attack on Fico. 

Prime Minister Of Hungary Viktor Orban At The European Council
Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico at a European Council summit at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2024.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty


“I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico,” Hungary’s Orbán said in a social media post. “We pray for his health and quick recovery!”

“I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico,” Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the EU’s governing EU Commission said in a post. “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good.”

Slovakia Political Map
A map shows Slovakia, with capital Bratislava and other major cities labeled, along with neighboring countries.

Getty/iStockphoto


In Kyiv, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who’s military is currently fending off years-long invasion by Russia, also condemned the shooting, saying: “We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring partner state’s head of government. Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere.”

Fico has publicly opposed Western nations’ supplying Ukraine with weapons for its defense against the Russian invasion.

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