• Wednesday, 12 June 2024

'Lone wolf' charged in attempted killing of Slovakia's leader

'Lone wolf' charged in attempted killing of Slovakia's leader

Bratislava, 16 May 2024 (dpa/MIA) - A man described as a "lone wolf" has been charged with the attempted murder of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said.

Eštok said the 71-year-old suspect was motivated by political grievances to try and assassinate Fico.

He described the man as a "lone wolf" who is "not a member of a radicalized political group, either right-wing nor left-wing."

Following Wednesday's assassination attempt that shocked the country and Europe, Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said on Thursday that the leader remained in "serious" condition at hospital.

Kalinak, who is also deputy prime minister, said that Fico had been hit by four bullets and they had cause serious injuries.

"The doctors have managed to stabilize his condition," he said, but stressed Fico is not yet out of danger.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the FD Roosevelt Hospital in the city of Banská Bystrica, said Fico underwent a five-hour emergency operation involving two teams of doctors on Wednesday evening.

Fico, 59, was flown to hospital by helicopter after the shooting attack that followed a government meeting in the central town of Handlová.

The suspected shooter was arrested at the scene. According to media reports, the man had worked for a private security service in the past and therefore had a firearms licence to legally possess a gun.

The attack occurred as Fico, a left-wing nationalist, went outside to shake hands after a Cabinet meeting held at the House of Culture in Handlová. He was hit in the abdomen.

The local television station RTV Prievidza published a video of the incident showing a man pushing against the fence and shooting at the prime minister from close range.

In a show of cross-party solidarity, outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová and her successor Peter Pellegrini made a joint appearance in Bratislava.

"Let's get out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations," Čaputová, who is from the the liberal Progressive Slovakia party, appealed to the public in a televised speech.

She said the attack on Fico had been an individual act. "But the tense atmosphere of hatred was our collective work."

Pellegrini, who at one point was in Fico's Smer party, called on the political parties to suspend or at least limit their campaigns ahead of the European elections in June.

The usual heated political discourse in the country has quieted. A turbulent parliamentary session was cancelled on Wednesday afternoon and adjourned indefinitely.

The liberal opposition parties cancelled all political rallies for the time being. They had originally called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday evening against Fico's plan to dissolve the public radio and television station RTVS.

President-elect Pellegrini, who is due to take office next month, also visited Fico in hospital on Thursday.

"I only spoke to him for a few minutes because the doctors asked me for a short visit," he said, describing Fico as "very tired."

"Difficult hours and days lie ahead."

Pellegrini said that a "red line" had been crossed with the assassination attempt. "The prime minister escaped death by a hair's breadth, it would have been enough if the bullet wound or several bullet wounds had been a few centimetres further and we might have to talk about completely different things today."

Fico had only recently accused the opposition of fuelling a climate of hostility against his government, saying it could not be ruled out that an act of violence would occur at some point given the level of vitriol.

Fico is the founder and leader of the left-wing party Smer, which has become increasingly nationalistic, and has been one of Slovakia's most popular politicians for almost 30 years.

At the same time he has polarized the small Central European country. Opponents call him "pro-Russian" and accuse him of wanting to lead Slovakia on a similar course as Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who promotes what he calls "illiberal democracy."

The authorities are investigating whether Fico's bodyguards did not adequately protect Fico, TASR news agency reported.