Slovak PM in life-threatening condition after being shot at political meeting

Pro-Russian leader shot four times in town of Handlova, evacuated by helicopter; European leaders express ‘shock’ after apparent assassination attempt

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, speaks with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, center, speaks with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)

Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting after a political event Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile.

Reports on TA3, a Slovakian TV station, said that Fico, 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. 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. 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, 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.”

Slovakia’s 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.”

This image taken from video footage obtained by AFPTV shows security personnel carrying Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico (C) towards a vehicle after he was shot in Handlova on May 15, 2024. (Photo by RTVS / AFP)

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 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, 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,” von der Leyen said in a post on X.

Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, May 15, 2024. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)

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 until 1992.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack “appalling.”

“Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere,” he said on X.

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

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on X he was “deeply shocked by the news of the cowardly attack on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico,” also calling for an end to “violence… in European politics.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep shock” Wednesday after Slovakian counterpart Robert Fico was shot and taken to hospital.

In a statement, she said also stressed the Italian government’s “strongest condemnation of all forms of violence and attacks on the cardinal principles of democracy and freedom.”

Hungary’s Orban expressed “deep shock” over the “heinous attack against my friend,” and hoped for a “quick recovery.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in a post he was “shocked and appalled by the shooting.”

“I wish him strength for a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with Robert Fico, his loved ones, and the people of Slovakia,” Stoltenberg wrote.

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