Slovakian PM Fico remains in 'serious' condition after assassination attempt

Bratislava, May 16 (IANS/DPA) The condition of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is "still serious" following the assassination attempt a day ago, Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said on Thursday after a special meeting of the Security Council in Bratislava.

Kalinak, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, said that Fico had been hit by four bullets and they had caused serious injuries.

"The doctors have managed to stabilize his condition," he said, but stressed Fico is not yet out of danger. "We have had a difficult night," Kalinak said.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the FD Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, said Fico underwent a five-hour emergency operation on Wednesday evening.

Two teams of doctors were involved in the operation, and Fico continues to be under the constant care of a team of doctors, she said.

Fico, 59, was flown to hospital by helicopter after the shooting attack that followed a government meeting in the central town of Handlová.

The suspected shooter, who was arrested at the scene, is a 71-year-old man from the town of Levice, according to Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok. Initial questioning had revealed a "clear political motive," according to the minister.

According to media reports, the man had worked for a private security service in the past and therefore had a firearms licence.

The attack occurred as Fico, a left-wing nationalist, went outside to shake hands after a Cabinet meeting held at the House of Culture in Handlová. One of the shots hit him in the abdomen.

The local television station RTV Prievidza published a video of the incident showing a man pushing against the fence and shooting at the prime minister from close range.

Experts in Slovakia criticized the security precautions surrounding Fico's outing.

"Fico himself spoke a few weeks ago about the danger of someone shooting at politicians," former Slovakian police chief Stefan Hamran told the Dennik N newspaper on Thursday.

He also criticised the reaction of security staff after the shots were fired. "There was chaos there, that is obvious and that is a failure."

The former head of the Slovakian personal security unit, Juraj Zabojník, also criticized the prime minister's bodyguards. "If four or five shots can be fired, someone is to blame," he told the news channel TA3. He said he had not seen any of the bodyguards stand in front of the head of government.

Outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová and her successor Peter Pellegrini have invited all political parties for consultations.

"Let's get out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations," Čaputová appealed to the public in a televised speech in Bratislava.

She said the attack on Fico had been an individual act. "But the tense atmosphere of hatred was our collective work."

During the speech, Caputova and Pellegrini made a joint appearance. "We want to send a signal of understanding in this tense situation," said Caputova, from the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

Pellegrini, who joined Fico's coalition, called on the political parties to suspend or at least limit their election campaigns ahead of the European elections in June until the situation has calmed down.

The usual heated political discourse in the country has come to a standstill. A turbulent parliamentary session was cancelled on Wednesday afternoon and adjourned indefinitely.

The liberal opposition parties cancelled all political rallies for the time being. They had originally called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday evening against Fico's plan to dissolve the public radio and television station RTVS.

Fico had only recently accused the opposition of fuelling a climate of hostility against his government, saying it could not be ruled out that an act of violence would occur at some point given the level of vitriol.

Fico is the founder and leader of the left-wing party Smer, which has recently become increasingly nationalistic, and has been one of Slovakia's most popular politicians for almost 30 years.

At the same time, however, he has polarized the small Central European country. Opponents call him "pro-Russian" and accuse him of wanting to lead Slovakia on a similar course as Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who promotes what he calls "illiberal democracy."

--IANS/dpa

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Source: IANS
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