Whirlwinds of speculation in Slovakia, with little detail on the attack on Fico

Questions multiplied in Slovakia on Friday as shock over the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico began to give way to trepidation about what comes next for a deeply polarized country.

Authorities have kept details about the attack, the attacker and even who leads the country to a minimum, while the prime minister remains hospitalized. Officials say they will provide more information soon, but that the situation is delicate.

They did not name the suspect – who Slovakia's interior minister described as a “lone wolf” radicalized after last month's presidential election – or say when he will appear in court to face charges of attempted premeditated murder. They called the shooting politically motivated, while urging the public and politicians to reduce political rhetoric and hatred while the investigation unfolds.

Local media reported on Friday that police officers escorted the suspect to his home in the central Slovak town of Levice, where they searched the premises and seized documents. Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Details about Mr Fico's injuries and condition have also been closely guarded. Local media sources said doctors will meet on Monday to determine whether the prime minister can be moved to the capital, Bratislava, from the intensive care unit of a hospital in central Slovakia where he has been undergoing surgery.

On Thursday, the deputy prime minister, Robert Kalinak, said at a news conference that Mr. Fico's condition had stabilized but that he was “not out of a life-threatening situation” and that he was facing a “difficult” recovery.

“I must say that his state of health is very serious,” Slovakia's president-elect, Peter Pellegrini, said after visiting Mr. Fico at the hospital in Banska Bystrica on Thursday afternoon.

And there has been no formal announcement about who will govern in Fico's absence. Local media quoted ministers as saying that Mr. Kalinak had led the meetings.

Authorities are launching two investigations – one into the attacker, the other into the response of security forces at the scene – and have urged not to rush to judgment.

Slovak officials acknowledged there is criticism of the officers' actions. Local news outlets published interviews with security experts analyzing the gunman's movements and officers' responses to try to understand how the attacker was able to fire at least five times at close range before being subdued.

The investigations are taking place against a backdrop of deep political divisions in Slovakia. Fico has pushed a hotly contested overhaul of the justice system to limit the scope of corruption investigations, and has moved to reshape the nation's broadcasting system to eliminate what the government calls liberal bias.

Senior officials from Fico's ruling Smer party have, in fact, accused liberal journalists and opposition politicians of motivating the assassination attempt through their intense criticism of the government's actions. However, Pellegrini, a Fico ally elected last month, was among the loudest voices calling for calm.

Amid a dearth of information from authorities, speculation about the attacker's identity and motives has been rife, prompting the Interior Ministry to repeatedly warn against releasing “unverified” details.

The ministry said last Thursday that “a large amount of misinformation” was circulating about the attack. On an existing ministry website dedicated to fighting hoaxes, he labeled a series of unconfirmed reports – that the suspect was a member of a Slovakian paramilitary group, that his wife was a Ukrainian refugee – as “not true,” but not offered nothing. verifiable.

As officials warned that tensions risked spreading, some in Slovakia expressed concern about whether Fico could still die, but also what might happen if he recovered.

“Polarization is very present in society today and it will get worse after this attack,” said Hana Klistincova, 34, a translator interviewed in Bratislava. “I personally don't fear that the attack will happen again – it was the impulsive behavior of one individual – but I fear the impact this will have on society because of our coalition leaders, who have started to blame the opposition and the media. After.”

Veronika Kladivikova, a 27-year-old seamstress from Banska Stiavnica, a small town in central Slovakia, said she was horrified by the attack.

“Families are also divided. I feel it in my family,” she said, as she watched his son play in a sandbox at the park.

But he said he is “not afraid right now,” adding: “I hope people are reasonable enough not to panic, or be even more against each other, divided.”

Sara Cincurova contributed a report from Bratislava.

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