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Leaders condemn assassination attempt on Slovakia's prime minister

PM Robert Fico is expected to survive the shooting after a political event. The police detained a 71-year-old suspect.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, shown at Brussels in March.
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, at Brussels in March with IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, left. (AN/Dean Calma/IAEA)

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders strongly condemned an attack on Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico that left him in grave condition from gunshot wounds.

"I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico," von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said on Wednesday. "Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good."

U.S. President Joe Biden expressed alarm at the attack and said he praying for a swift recovery. "We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist," he said.

France's President Emmanuel Macron said he was shocked by the assassination attempt. "I strongly condemn this attack. My thoughts and solidarity go out to him, his family and the Slovak people," he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz likewise said he was "deeply shocked by the news of the cowardly attack" and that violence must not be allowed to exist in European politics.

Fico was shot multiple times after a political event in Handlova, northeast of the capital, Bratislava, and flown by helicopter to a hospital in Banská Bystrica, where he was admitted in a life-threatening condition. The shooting focused attention on the nation's toxic political environment, replete with disinformation and death threats.

After a government meeting, the 59-year-old prime minister, whose party campaigned on a pro-Russia, anti-U.S. stance last year, was meeting with the public outside the House of Culture when the attack occurred. "The next few hours will decide," his office said on Fico's Facebook page.

Fico was expected to survive after having surgery for a bullet that went through his stomach and a second one that hit a joint, Slovakia's deputy prime minister, Tomáš Taraba, told BBC late on Wednesday. “Fortunately as far as I know the operation went well and I guess in the end he will survive,” he said. “He’s not in a life-threatening situation at this moment.”

Fico, who won election last fall, is serving his third stint as prime minister. He previously held the post from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018, when he was forced out over the killing of a Sloval journalist, Jan Kuciak, who uncovered links between affiliates of an Italian organized-crime family and members of Fico’s government.

An appeal not to 'pass quick judgments'

Fico returned to power on a campaign to end military support to Ukraine during its invasion by Russia. He once represented his nation before the European Court of Human Rights, but more recently promised to take a tough stance against migration, non-governmental organizations, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Slovakia's president-elect, Peter Pellegrini, called the assassination attempt an "unprecedented" threat to the nation's democracy.

"I am horrified by where the hatred towards another political opinion can lead," he said. "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."

Slovakia’s outgoing president, Zuzana Čaputová, said police detained a suspect and would provide more information later. Slovak media outlets said the suspect was a 71 year old man with a gun license.

"I am shocked. We are all shocked by the terrible and vile attack. We may not fully comprehend yet the seriousness of what has happened today," Čaputová said.

She urged others not to "pass quick judgments" until more is known. Some far-right commentators were already drawing parallels to Serb nationalist Archduke Franz Ferdinand's 1914 assassination, a trigger for World War I.

"The shooting of the Prime Minister is first and foremost an attack on a human being — but it’s also an attack on democracy," she said. "Violence is absolutely unacceptable. Hate speech and rhetoric full of hate, which we witness across society, leads to hateful acts. Please, let us stop this."

This is a developing story and will be updated.