Slovak premier Robert Fico critically injured in shooting

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times on Wednesday, leaving him with life-threatening injuries, his office said.

Fico’s office said he was in a “life-threatening condition” after being attacked as he greeted people in the town of Handlová. “The next few hours will decide,” Fico’s office added.

It said the 59-year-old nationalist leader was transferred by helicopter to a hospital in the central city of Banská Bystrica, rather than the capital, “because it would take too long to get to Bratislava due to the necessity of an acute intervention”.

He was due to undergo surgery, said a Slovak government official. A 71-year-old man who held a gun licence was detained as a suspect, local media reported.

Fico, who returned to power in the central European nation in October, was outside the house of culture in Handlová, about 190km from the capital, Bratislava, when he was shot.

The shooting comes at a time of deep polarisation in Slovakia, and some politicians from Fico’s coalition were quick to blame the opposition for provoking the attack.

Deputy prime minister Tomáš Taraba said that “the entire hateful opposition has bloody fingers”.

Milan Nič, an analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to Slovakia’s foreign ministry, said: “It is not an isolated incident. This is one of the most polarised countries in Europe… with regular threats against the lives of politicians.”

Michal Šimečka, leader of the country’s liberal opposition, said on social media site X: “We absolutely and strongly condemn the violence and today’s shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico. We believe he will be fine.

“At the same time, we call on all politicians to refrain from any statements and actions that may contribute to the escalation of tension.”

Robert Fico speaking
Robert Fico during a press conference in Handlová on Wednesday © AP

Fico, founder of the populist Smer party, began his fourth term in office last October leading a three-way Eurosceptic coalition that has called on the EU to lift sanctions placed on Russia over Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It also wants the bloc to take tough measures against migration.

Since returning to the premiership of the EU member country, Fico has made a series of contentious political moves, such as dissolving an anti-corruption office in defiance of warnings from Brussels, prompting concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in the country.

Last month his coalition moved ahead with a law targeting non-governmental organisations that critics said was inspired by Hungary’s crackdown on civil rights groups.

Back view of a person in handcuffs sitting on the ground
A person is detained after the shooting © Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

President Zuzana Čaputová said she was shocked by the “brutal and reckless” attack and wished Fico “a lot of strength at this critical moment to recover”.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a political ally of Fico within the EU, said he was shocked by the “heinous attack against my friend”.

European leaders were also quick to condemn the shooting. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good . . . My thoughts are with PM Fico and his family.”

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