What to know about the shooting of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot five times on Wednesday, in the worst attack against a European leader in decades. Officials said the act was a politically motivated assassination attempt, fueling fears that Europe's increasingly polarized and vitriolic politics could lead to violence.

Mr Fico, a veteran politician, underwent hours of emergency surgery after being seriously injured in a central Slovakian town. Hospital and government officials said Thursday that Mr. Fico's condition had stabilized overnight but remained serious.

Here's what we know about the shooting.

Videos from the scene indicate that Fico was killed in Banikov Square in the center of Handlova city, where the prime minister had held a government meeting.

The attacker is seen in the videos standing with other people behind a metal barrier before stepping forward and shooting Mr Fico from a few meters away as he came to greet them.

Mr. Fico doubled over and fell backwards onto a bench, and security officers pushed him into a black car. According to Slovakian officials, Mr. Fico was flown to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, a town near Handlova.

Mr. Fico's condition stabilized overnight, and doctors are performing additional procedures in an effort to improve his condition, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said Thursday morning outside the hospital where the prime minister is being treated.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the hospital, said Mr. Fico underwent five hours of surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. She said his condition remained “really very serious” and that he remained in an intensive care unit.

A suspect has been charged with attempted premeditated murder, the country's interior minister said on Thursday, describing the man as a “lone wolf” who became radicalized after last month's presidential election.

Authorities did not name the suspect but said initial evidence showed the act was “clearly” politically motivated. Slovak media described the suspect as a 71-year-old amateur poet.

“For the first time in 31 years of our sovereign democratic republic, it happened that someone decided to express a political opinion not during an election, but with a gun on the street,” wrote Matus Sutaj Estok, Minister of Slovakian interior. .

Slovakia's president, Zuzana Caputova, called the assassination attempt an “attack on democracy.”

In Slovakia, the assassination attempt has heightened polarization and added vitriol to an already divided political landscape, with Fico's allies accusing opponents of having “blood on their hands”. Lubos Blaha, a representative of Fico's party, Smer, said opponents and what he called “the liberal media” had “built a gallows” for the prime minister.

But officials are urging political figures and members of the public to avoid inflammatory rhetoric. Peter Pellegrini, Fico's ally and president-elect of Slovakia, called on all political parties to suspend their campaigns for next month's European Parliament elections – and some have done so.

Abroad, the shooting drew condemnation from world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Putin praised Fico, who expressed pro-Russian views, and said that “this monstrous crime cannot have any justification.”

Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister and ally of Fico, said this he was “deeply shocked by the hateful attack on my friend”.

Condemnations also came from the United States and the European Union. President Biden called the attack a “horrific act of violence” and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called it “cowardly” means of social communication.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has faced declining support from Slovakia despite having delivered fighter jets to Ukraine when the war began, also condemned the attack.

Fico, who served as prime minister longer than any other Slovak leader, presented himself as a fighter for the common man and an enemy of the liberal elites. Like Hungary's Orban, Fico opposed non-European immigration and aid to Ukraine.

He began his thirty-year political career on the left, but over the years has embraced right-wing political views, as has his party, Smer.

Previously, Fico served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. He was ousted during street protests in 2018 over the killing of a journalist who was investigating government corruption, but was re-elected the year Last year, after a campaign in which he took pro-Russian positions, he promised social conservatism, nationalism and generous welfare programs.

His critics have described some of Fico's plans as attempts to return Slovakia to repressive Soviet times, and have criticized his government's efforts to overhaul state broadcasting to eliminate what they see as liberal biases and limit foreign funding to non-profit organizations. governments that it considers to be foreign agents.

Reporting contribution was provided by Andrea Higgins, Lauren Leatherby, Cassandra Vinograd AND Matthew Mpoke Bigg.

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