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  /  Investing Analysis   /  Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico shot multiple times in ‘politically motivated’ attack

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico shot multiple times in ‘politically motivated’ attack

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was hospitalized on Wednesday after he was shot five times in an assassination attempt that shocked the country.

The attack took place after an off-site government meeting in the central Slovak town of Handlova. The suspected gunman was among a small crowd of people waiting to greet the prime minister on the street outside the cultural center, where the meeting took place, local media reported.

Footage from the scene shows the injured prime minister being bundled into a vehicle by his staff, before it speeds away with him inside. Fico was taken to a local hospital and then transferred by helicopter to a major trauma center about 20 miles (30 kilometers) away in Banska Bystrica. No one else was injured in the attack, officials said.

Both the country’s Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák and Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok called the shooting “politically motivated,” with Šutaj Eštok saying that “the suspect made the decision to do it shortly after the presidential election.”

Slovakian deputy Prime Minister Tomáš Taraba said he believed the prime minister would survive following surgery that “went well” and was “not in a life-threatening situation at this moment.”

“I was very shocked and tried to contact people to figure out how serious his condition was,” Taraba said in an interview with BBC’s Newshour program on Wednesday, recalling the moment he heard about Fico’s shooting.

“Fortunately, as far as I know the operation went well and I guess in the end he will survive,” he said.

Taraba told the BBC that Fico “was heavily injured” and a bullet “went through the stomach and the second one hit the joints.”

Fico is the most powerful lawmaker in Slovakia. Unlike the president, whose role has limited scope, the prime minister holds rank as the decision-making head of government.

The official statement posted on Fico’s official Facebook said the PM was taken to Banska Bystrica instead of the capital city of Bratislava because “an acute intervention” was necessary. Handlova is about two hours’ drive from the capital Bratislava.

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová said the suspected gunman was detained by the police. She said law enforcement agencies will release more information when they can and asked the public not to spread unconfirmed rumors.

Čaputová condemned what she called a “brutal and reckless” attack on the 59-year-old politician. Speaking at a news conference later in the afternoon, she said the shooting was “an attack on democracy as well.”

Slovakia’s defense and interior ministers blamed rising hate speech and division for the political atmosphere in the country, which they said led to the assassination attempt.

Speaking to reporters in front of the hospital where Fico is being treated, Defense Minister Kaliňák said: “Hate is not an answer to hate.” Visibly shaken and struggling for words at multiple moments during the news conference, Kaliňák said it was “time for some people to have a hard look into the mirror.”

“There is no question that this was politically motivated. The inability to accept the choice of people, which some may not like … it leads to this,” he said.

Interior Minister Šutaj-Eštok called for calm, saying “those who are endorsing this attack as well as those who are calling for some sort of a revenge. And I am asking you, the media too, please, use your power, your influence. Because until now, it was some of you who sow the hate,” he said.

Following the shooting, Šutaj-Eštok said the country is “experiencing the worst day of its democracy.”

“For the first time in the 31 years of our democratic sovereign republic, someone has decided to express a political opinion not in an election but with a gun on the street,” he wrote on Facebook.

Slovaks have been deeply divided over the country’s direction and position in the world since Fico’s return to power last year. Supporters see Fico as a caring leader who has their interests at heart; critics say he is a populist whose pro-Russian leanings pose major risks for the country.

The country has seen weeks of largely peaceful protests over his coalition government’s controversial domestic reforms. The government is also trying to shut down public service broadcaster RTVS and plans to replace it with a new national broadcaster, which would be under tighter control of the government.

Felt like a ‘nightmare’

Social media footage appeared to show the moment Fico was attacked. As he approaches a crowd of people, a man is seen lunging towards Fico with what appears to be a gun pointed at him. Five shots are heard and Fico falls to the ground.

An eyewitness who was at the scene where Fico was shot said the attack felt like a “nightmare” after hearing three “quick” shots, fired one after the other as if you were to “throw a firecracker on the ground.”

“I heard three shots, it was quick one by one like if you throw a firecracker on the ground,” eyewitness Lubica Valkova told Reuters, adding that “he (Fico) fell next to the barrier.”

“I think it is a nightmare, I’ll tell you I think I will not wake up from this,” the 66-year-old said. “That this is not possible to happen in Slovakia.”

Valkova said she had been waiting a long time to shake Fico’s hand and was taking pictures of him when he walked out of the building in Handlova.

“At this moment we heard something like a bang, we thought someone made a joke and threw a firecracker on the ground, that was my first reaction,” Valkova recalled.

The Slovak resident told Reuters she had been waiting from 10 a.m. local time. She claimed police did not search people who were waiting at the event, adding that “we could have shown our empty hands.”

Ally of Moscow

In what was a stunning comeback for the controversial politician, Fico won a third term as Slovakian prime minister last October after running a campaign that criticized western support for Ukraine. As prime minister, he made a major U-turn in Slovakia’s foreign policy and its previously staunch support for Ukraine: Fico had pledged an immediate end to Slovak military support for Ukraine and promised to block Ukraine’s NATO ambitions.

Ahead of the election, Fico made no secret of his sympathies towards the Kremlin and blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Vladimir Putin into launching the invasion, repeating the false narrative Russia’s president has used to justify his invasion.

While in opposition, Fico became a close ally of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, especially when it came to criticism of the European Union.

Domestically, his coalition government is also pushing controversial reforms that have prompted weeks of large-scale peaceful protests. Attempts to overhaul the criminal justice system have been particularly controversial, as the government seeks to reduce penalties for corruption and has already abolished Slovakia’s special prosecutor’s office, which was tasked with investigating serious and politically sensitive corruption cases, including some that involved people connected to Fico and his party SMER (“Direction – Social Democracy”).

Fico previously served as Slovakia’s prime minister for more than a decade, first between 2006 and 2010 and then again from 2012 to 2018. He was forced to resign in March 2018 after weeks of mass protests over the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak reported on corruption among the country’s elite, including people directly connected to Fico and his party SMER.

World leaders immediately condemned the attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a telegram to Slovakia’s president that “there can be no justification for this monstrous crime” and wished Fico a speedy and complete recovery.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: “I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico. Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good.”

And Hungarian Prime Minister Orban added: “I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico. We pray for his health and quick recovery!”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed “solidarity with the people of Slovakia” following the “appalling” assault on Fico.

US President Joe Biden said he was “alarmed” by the attempted assassination of Fico, calling it a “horrific act of violence.”

“Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia,” he said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he “strongly condemns the shocking attack.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

This post appeared first on cnn.com