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    Monday, June 24, 2024

    Slovakia's populist prime minister shot multiple times in attempted assassination

    Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Slovakia's populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)

    Prague — Slovakia's populist prime minister, Robert Fico, was shot multiple times and gravely wounded Wednesday after a political event in an attempted assassination that shocked the small country and reverberated across Europe.

    The pro-Russian leader, 59, was reported to be fighting for his life after being hit in the stomach. At least four shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometers (85 miles) northeast of the capital, where Fico was meeting with supporters, the government said.

    A suspect was in custody, the country’s president said in a televised statement. Fico was taken by helicopter to a hospital.

    The motive for the shooting was unclear.

    Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond, but his return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American message led to even greater worries among fellow European Union members that he would lead his country further from the Western mainstream.

    His government halted arms deliveries to Ukraine, and critics worry that he will lead Slovakia — a nation of 5.4 million that belongs to NATO — to abandon its pro-Western course and follow in the footsteps of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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

    A message posted to Fico’s Facebook account said he was taken to a hospital in Banská Bystrica, 17 miles from Handlova, because it would take too long to get to the capital, Bratislava.

    The attack comes as political campaigning heats up three weeks ahead of Europe-wide elections to choose lawmakers for the European Parliament. Concern is mounting that populist and nationalists similar to Fico could make gains in the 27-member bloc.

    “A physical attack on the prime minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy," outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, a political rival of Fico, said in a televised statement. "Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we’ve been witnessing in society leads to hateful actions. Please, let’s stop it.”

    President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico, called the shooting “an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy. If we express other political opinions with pistols in squares, and not in polling stations, we are jeopardizing everything that we have built together over 31 years of Slovak sovereignty.”

    U.S. President Joe Biden said he was alarmed. "We condemn this horrific act of violence," he said in a statement.

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the social media platform X that he was “shocked and appalled" by the attempt on Fico's life, while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “vile attack.”

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the violence against a neighboring country's head of government.

    "Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form or sphere," he said.

    Fico, a third-time premier, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party won Slovakia’s Sept. 30 parliamentary elections.

    But politics as usual were put aside as the nation faced the shock of the attempt on Fico’s life.

    Slovakia’s Parliament was adjourned until further notice. The major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, canceled a planned protest against a controversial government plan to overhaul public broadcasting that they say would give the government full control of public radio and television.

    Progressive Slovakia leader Michal Simecka condemned the violence.

    “At the same time, we call on all politicians to refrain from any expressions and steps which could contribute to further increasing the tension,” Simecka said.

    Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wished the premier a swift recovery.

    "We cannot tolerate violence, there’s no place for it in society.” The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed Czechoslovakia till 1992.

    Police arrest a man after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    FILE - Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives to a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Media reports say on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 that Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was injured in a shooting and taken to hospital. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)
    Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)
    Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)
    Police arrest a man after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    Bodyguards take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico in a car from the scene after he was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference after the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May, 15, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after the away-from-home government meeting in Handlova, according to information confirmed by Parliamentary Vice-Chair Lubos Blaha, who suspended the House session. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives for a cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May, 15, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after the away-from-home government meeting in Handlova, according to information confirmed by Parliamentary Vice-Chair Lubos Blaha, who suspended the House session. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, centre, speaks with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May, 15, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after the away-from-home government meeting in Handlova, according to information confirmed by Parliamentary Vice-Chair Lubos Blaha, who suspended the House session. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, centre, back to the camera, waves people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May, 15, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after the away-from-home government meeting in Handlova, according to information confirmed by Parliamentary Vice-Chair Lubos Blaha, who suspended the House session. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
    FILE - Leader of the Smer-Social Democracy party Robert Fico addresses the media during a press conference a day after the Slovakia's general election in Bratislava, Sunday, March 1, 2020. Slovakia's populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was wounded in a shooting Wednesday May 15, 2024 and taken to hospital. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
    FILE - Former Slovak Prime Minister and head of leftist SMER - Social Democracy party Robert Fico arrives for an election rally in Michalovce, Slovakia, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Slovakia's populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was wounded in a shooting Wednesday May 15, 2024 and taken to hospital. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Prime Minister Robert Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year. Having previously served twice as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, the 59-year-old's third term made him the longest-serving head of government in Slovakia’s history. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, pool, File)
    Slovak outgoing president Zuzana Caputova speaks during a press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024 after Slovak Prime Minister was shot and injured. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting after a political event Wednesday afternoon, an episode of violence that punctuated his long career spanning decades in politics. (Jaroslav Novak/TASR via AP)
    Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)
    Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, right, talks to Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year. Having previously served twice as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, the 59-year-old's third term made him the longest-serving head of government in Slovakia’s history. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)
    FILE - Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Carmelite Monastery in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year. Having previously served twice as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, the 59-year-old's third term made him the longest-serving head of government in Slovakia’s history. . (AP Photo/Denes Erdos, File)
    Slovakia's prime minister was attacked by an armed assailant and hospitalized Wednesday. (AP Graphic)

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