Slovak PM Fico in 'life-threatening' condition after assassination bid, fighting for life (2nd Lead)

Bratislava, May 15 Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has committed his central European country to a neutral stance on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, suffered "life-threatening" injuries after an assassination bid on Wednesday as he was interacting with the public after a government meeting and "is fighting for his life" in a hospital.

As per footage of the incident that occurred in Handlova town, around 180 km northeast of Bratislava, Fico was shaking hands with supporters across a metal barrier, before a gunman fired at him around five times. As he collapsed and was hurried to his car, the attacker was wrestled down to the ground by his security guards and bystanders.

Multiple shots were fired at Fico, 59, RT reported, citing Slovakia’s TA3 News.

Fico was shot "multiple times” and his condition is “life-threatening," the Prime Minister’s office announced on Facebook. He was airlifted from Handlova to a hospital in the nearby city of Banska Bystrica as flying him to Bratislava would take too long, it added.

Addressing reporters late on Wednesday, Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said that the PM was still in surgery and fighting for his life.

His condition is "really serious" and the "situation is bad", he added, the BBC reported.

Kalinak said that any detailed medical information will be available later on as "the situation is really complicated now" and the surgery has been going on for three and a half hours.

Earlier, Labour Minister Erik Tomas told local channel TV Markiza that Fico was still being operated upon and the process would take a long time as several of the Prime Minister’s organs were damaged, RT reported.

A Slovak Interior Ministry spokesman termed it an assassination attempt.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said that the assassination attempt was politically motivated and the decision was "born right after the presidential election". He blamed "social media hate" for the attack.

Slovak media identified the attacker as Juraj Cintula, 71, reportedly a poet and founder of the Slovak Association of Writers, and a supporter of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, and he used his licensed gun for the crime.

President Zuzana Caputova, who has clashed with the PM over his Ukraine policy, condemned the "brutal and reckless" attack on Fico, and wished him "a lot of strength at this critical moment".

President-elect Peter Pellegrini, who will succeed Caputova next month and is an ally of Fico, termed the attempt on the PM's life "an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy".

"If we express differing political views with guns in the squares, and not in the polling stations, we threaten everything that we have built together during the 31 years of Slovak sovereignty," he said in a statement.

Other global leaders expressed shock at the news.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he is "deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico".

His Czech counterpart Petr Fiala said the shooting was "shocking" and wished Fico a quick recovery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he was "indignant" to hear of the "heinous" attempt on Fico’s life. "I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation," Putin said in a statement, RT reported.

US President Joe Biden condemned the "horrific act of violence" and offered Slovakia all assistance.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also strongly condemned the shocking attack, his spokesperson said.

The head of the left-wing Smer-SD party, Fico returned to office in October last year after serving two stints as Prime Minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. He halted the previous policy of military aid to Kiev and called for a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine. This had put him at odds with other European countries, save Hungary, which follows a similar course.

Source: IANS
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