Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico’s condition still ‘very serious’ after surgery

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Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was in a “very serious” but stable condition on Thursday, a hospital official said, after he was shot five times in an assassination attempt that has laid bare deep political divisions in the country.

The shooting was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years, and spurred international condemnation, with political analysts and lawmakers saying it was indicative of an increasingly febrile and polarised political climate across the continent.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova called for a calming of political tensions and said she would invite all parliamentary party leaders for a joint meeting. Fico ally and President-elect Peter Pellegrini urged parties to suspend or tone down their campaigning for next month’s European Parliament elections.

“If there is anything the people of Slovakia urgently need today, it is at least a basic consensus and unity among Slovaks’ political representatives,” said Pellegrini, who won an April election for the mainly ceremonial post of president.

News website tvnoviny.sk reported on Thursday that police had charged the suspect with attempted murder and that he could face life imprisonment.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital in Banska Bystrica where Fico is being treated, said the 59-year-old prime minister had undergone five hours of surgery with two teams to treat multiple gunshot wounds.

“At this point his condition is stabilised but is truly very serious, he will be in the intensive care unit,” she told reporters.

VETERAN LEADER

Fico has dominated Slovak politics for much of the past two decades, fusing left-leaning economic views with nationalism and tapping into widespread discontent over living standards. But he has also proven a divisive figure, with critics saying new reforms threaten the rule of law and media freedoms.

His calls for ending sanctions on Russia and halting arms supplies to Ukraine have endeared him to Moscow, and President Vladimir Putin and other Russian politicians have been prominent among those condemning the assassination attempt.

Fico was shot while greeting supporters in the street after chairing a government meeting in the central town of Handlova.

Slovak news media reported that the 71-year-old gunman was a former security guard at a shopping mall, the author of three collections of poetry and a member of the Slovak Society of Writers. News outlet Aktuality.sk cited the suspect’s son as saying his father was the legal holder of a gun licence.

There has been no official confirmation of the gunman’s identity and background.

Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said doctors had managed to stabilise Fico’s condition overnight, and procedures were underway to secure further improvement.

“Unfortunately the condition continues to be very serious due to the complicated nature of the wounds, but we all want to believe firmly that we will succeed in managing the situation,” he said.

The incident raised questions over Fico’s security arrangements, as the attacker managed to fire five shots at point blank range despite the prime minister being accompanied by several bodyguards.

POLARISATION

In an undated video posted on Facebook, the alleged attacker was seen saying: “I do not agree with government policy” and criticising government plans to revamp the public broadcaster.

Reuters verified the person in the video matched images of the man arrested after Fico’s shooting.

Fico and his government coalition allies have criticised sections of the media and the opposition, saying they had inflamed tensions in the central European state.

Slovakia’s biggest opposition party, the liberal, pro-Western Progressive Slovakia, was quick to condemn the shooting and called off a protest rally planned for Wednesday evening. It has also urged all politicians to avoid stoking tensions.

Since returning for the fourth time as prime minister last October, Fico has shifted policy quickly.

As well as scaling back support for Ukraine and opening dialogue with Russia, his government has sought to weaken punishments for graft and dismantled a special prosecutor’s office dealing with high corruption.

Fico has long been critical of Slovakia’s mainstream media, refusing to speak to some outlets. Members of his party blasted media and opposition actions in recent months.

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