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Slovakia PM Shot Multiple Times, Suffer Life-Threatening Injuries

Slovakia PM Shot Multiple Times, Suffer Life-Threatening Injuries

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NEW DELHI, May 15: Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico was on Wednesday shot multiple times and rushed to hospital with life-threatening injuries after a cabinet meeting, officials said.

Fico, a populist leader accused of being Kremlin-friendly, has been prime minister since last year.

Local media reports said Mr Fico, 59, was hit in the stomach after four shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova, some 150km northeast of the capital, where the leader was meeting with supporters. A suspect has been detained, it said.

“Today, after the government meeting in Handlova, there was an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Robert Fico”, the government said in a post on social media. A message posted to Mr Fico’s Facebook account said the leader “has been shot multiple times and is currently in life-threatening condition. At this moment he is transported by helicopter to Banská Bystrica, because it would take too long to get to Bratislava due to the necessity of an acute procedure. The next few hours will decide.”

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, media report said. Slovakia’s major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, cancelled 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,” Ms Caputova said. “I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack.”

Mr Fico, a third-time premier, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party, won Slovakia’s September 30 parliamentary elections, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

Critics worried Slovakia under Mr 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 Mr Fico’s policies.

Condemnations of political violence quickly came from leaders across Europe, although no motive for the attack was immediately apparent. 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,” Ms 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.”

As well as his current stint as premier, Fico also headed the government in 2006-10 and 2012-18. Since he was elected last October, Fico has made a string of remarks that have soured ties between Slovakia and neighbouring Ukraine. He has notably questioned Ukraine’s sovereignty and called for a compromise with Russia.

He also sparked mass protests with controversial changes, including a media law that critics say will undermine the impartiality of public television and radio. At a press conference following the shooting, Mr Blaha lashed out against his critics. “You, the liberal media, and progressive politicians are to blame. Robert Fico is fighting for his life because of your hatred,” Blaha said.

(Manas Dasgupta)


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