May 25th, 2024

Slovakia’s president calls shooting of prime minister an attack on democracy

By Karel Janicek, The Associated Press on May 15, 2024.

FILE - Chairman of SMER-Social Democracy party Robert Fico arrives at his party's headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 the day after an early parliamentary election. Media reports on Wednesday, May 15, 2024 say Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was injured in a shooting and taken to hospital. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

PRAGUE (AP) – Slovakia’s president said that an attempt to assassinate the country’s prime minister is “an attack on democracy.”

President Zuzana Caputova, a political rival of Fico, said in a televised statement:

“A physical attack on the Prime Minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy. Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we’ve been witnessing in society leads to hateful actions. Please, let’s stop it.” Caputova said the shooter was arrested but gave no details about him.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

PRAGUE (AP) – Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting after a political event Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile.

The populist, pro-Russian leader, 59, was hit in the stomach after four shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of the capital where the leader was meeting with supporters, according to reports on TA3, a Slovakian TV station.

A suspect has been detained, it said.

A message posted to Fico’s Facebook account said that the leader “has been shot multiple times and is currently in life-threatening condition.”

It said he was being transported by helicopter to the Banská Bystrica, 29 kilometers (63 miles) away from Handlova because it would take too long to get to Bratislava due to the necessity of an acute procedure.

“The next few hours will decide,” it said.

President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico, called the assassination “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.”

There were reactions of shock from across Europe, and some were calling it an attempted assassination of the leader in the NATO state, although no motive for the shooting was immediately apparent.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the social media platform X that he was “shocked and appalled by the shooting.”

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

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

Slovakia’s 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.

“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.”

President Zuzana Caputova condemned “a 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.”

Fico, a third-time premier, 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.

Critics worried Slovakia under Fico would abandon the country’s pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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

Condemnations of political violence quickly came from leaders across Europe.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned what she described as a “vile attack.”

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

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called the incident “shocking,” adding “I wish the premier to get well soon. We cannot tolerate violence, there’s no place for it in society.” The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed Czechoslovakia till 1992.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wrote on the social media network X: “Shocking news from Slovakia. Robert, my thoughts are with you in this very difficult moment.”

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