Slovakia’s Premier Robert Fico no longer in ‘life-threatening situation’

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Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is no longer in a “life-threatening situation” after he was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt, a senior minister has said.

As Fico remained in hospital on Thursday morning with grave injuries after hours of surgery, the attempt on his life — the first against a sitting EU leader in more than two decades — continued to reverberate across the continent just three weeks before European parliamentary elections.

The 59-year-old populist, pro-Russian leader was shot multiple times as he greeted people in the town of Handlová, about 190km from the central European country’s capital Bratislava, in an attack some of his allies linked to the country’s stark political polarisation.

“Fortunately as far as I know the operation went well, and I guess in the end he will survive,” deputy prime minister Tomáš Taraba told the BBC late on Wednesday after Fico underwent more than four hours of surgery. “He’s not in a life-threatening situation at this moment.”

Taraba said one bullet went through Fico’s stomach and a second hit a joint, leaving the prime minister in what was previously described as a “very critical” situation.

Defence minister Robert Kaliňák, a close ally of the prime minister, added on Wednesday evening that Fico’s situation was “very complicated” but that “we believe he will be strong enough to handle this trauma”.

A 71-year old man with a gun licence was detained as a suspect over the shooting, local media reported. Footage of the incident shows the shooter being detained on the scene after firing five shots.

The attack has laid bare the deep political divisions in the EU and Nato member state of 5.4mn, where Fico’s election victory in October — heralding his third term as prime minister since 2006 — and his moves to overhaul the country’s judicial system have sparked public protests.

“This assassination [attempt] was politically motivated and the perpetrator’s decision was created closely after the presidential election,” said interior minister Matúš Šutaj-Eštok, referring to the April election won by a Fico ally, Peter Pellegrini.

Andrej Danko, leader of the Slovak National party, which is part of Fico’s ruling coalition, warned that the attack could herald “a political war”.

But outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová, a liberal and outspoken critic of Fico, called for a halt to vitriolic language against politicians.

“The hateful rhetoric we witness leads to hateful acts,” she said in a televised address to the nation. “A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but also on democracy.”

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