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Shooting of Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico

Shooting of Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico
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Slovakia’s prime minister expected to survive after shooting

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Adrienne Vogt and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated

9:30 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

7:04 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Slovakian deputy prime minister believes Fico will survive the assassination attempt

From CNN’s Zahid Mahmood

Tomáš Taraba speaks with journalists before a constituent session of the new Slovak parliament in Bratislava, Slovakia, on October 25, 2023.
Tomáš Taraba speaks with journalists before a constituent session of the new Slovak parliament in Bratislava, Slovakia, on October 25, 2023. Vaclav Salek/CTK/AP/File

Slovakian Deputy Prime Minister Tomáš Taraba said he believes Prime Minister Robert Fico will survive Wednesday’s assassination attempt and is “not in a life-threatening situation at this moment.”

“Fortunately, as far as I know, the operation went well and I guess in the end he will survive,” Taraba said in an interview with the BBC’s Newshour program.

Taraba said the prime minister “was heavily injured” with one bullet entering his stomach and another hitting the joints.

“Immediately he was transported to the hospital and then to the operation,” he said.

5:39 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Video appears to show the moment Slovakia’s prime minister was shot

From CNN’s Eve Brennan

A video circulating on social media appears to show the moment Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot in the town of Handlova on Wednesday.

The footage appears to show Fico, surrounded by a team of at least four security guards in dark suits, walking toward a crowd of people standing behind metal barriers. 

A man in the crowd behind the barriers is seen lunging toward Fico with what appears to be a gun, which he is pointing at the prime minister.

Five shots are heard in the video. People in the crowd don’t appear to know what is happening.

Fico falls to the ground and the man with the weapon is apprehended and pushed to the ground by the men in dark suits. Other men are seen running in Fico’s direction.

Robert Kaliňák, Slovakia’s minister of defense, said that Fico “suffered multiple injuries,” but did not provide any details when reporters asked if the prime minister was shot in the stomach.

5:22 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Analysis: Prime Minister Robert Fico is a divisive politician in a divided country

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova

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

Since taking the top job in October, Fico has brought about a major pivot in Slovakia’s foreign policy and its previously staunch support for Ukraine. He pledged an immediate end to military support for Kyiv against the Russian invasion and promised to block Ukraine’s ambitions of joining NATO.

Domestically, his coalition government is also pushing controversial reforms that have led to 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. It 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”).

The Slovakian government is also trying to shut down public service broadcaster RTVS, planning to replace it with a new national broadcaster that would be under tighter government control.

Before his stunning political comeback last year, Fico had spent more than a decade as prime minister. He was forced to resign in March 2018 after weeks of mass protests sparked by the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak had reported on corruption among the country’s elite.

This year’s tightly contested presidential election saw Fico cement his grip on power as his ally Peter Pellegrini was elected into the role.

5:24 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

What we know about the assassination attempt on Slovakia’s prime minister

From CNN staff

Robert Fico walks during the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 18.
Robert Fico walks during the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 18. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images/File

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is undergoing surgery after being shot five times Wednesday in an assassination attempt, according to officials.

The gunman is in custody and no one else was injured in the attack, they said.

Fico won a third term as Slovakian prime minister last October after running a campaign that criticized Western support for Ukraine.

Here’s what we know:

  • What happened: The shooting 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.
  • His condition: Fico is “still fighting for his life,” according to Robert Kaliňák, Slovakia’s minister of defense. Kaliňák said Fico “suffered multiple injuries,” but did not provide any details when reporters asked if the prime minister was shot in the stomach.
  • Politically motivated: Based on “initial interviews with the suspect,”  Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said the assassination attempt was politically motivated. He said the suspect decided to carry out the attack after the presidential election. The ministers, Eštok and Kaliňák, blamed rising hate speech and division for the political atmosphere in the country.
  • Reaction: Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova said the assassination attempt was “also an attack on democracy” and an opposition member of Slovakia’s parliament, Maria Kolikova, called it “an attack on the internal security” of the country. US President Joe Biden expressed alarm at the attempted assassination, calling it a “horrific act of violence.” Various other NATO and European Union leaders, as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also condemned the attack.
  • Tie to Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack a “monstrous crime.” Fico is known to be a Kremlin sympathizer. He had previously blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Putin into launching the invasion of Ukraine.
3:37 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Putin calls Fico’s assassination attempt a “monstrous crime”

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the assassination attempt on Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico a “monstrous crime.”

“There can be no justification for this monstrous crime,” Putin said in a message sent to Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova.

The Russian leader also said he knows Fico as “a courageous and strong-willed man,” the qualities that Putin hopes will help Fico overcome “this difficult situation.”

Some context: Fico is known to be a Kremlin sympathizer. He had previously blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Putin into launching the invasion of Ukraine, repeating the false narrative Russia’s president has used to justify his invasion.

3:24 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Slovakian ministers blame rising hate speech and division for atmosphere that led to attack on prime minister

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova

Slovakia’s defense and interior minister blamed rising hate speech and division for the political atmosphere in the country, which they said led to the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico. 

Speaking to reporters outside the hospital where Fico is being treated, Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák said: “This needs to stop immediately. I beg you, please. Hate is not an answer to hate.”

Visibly shaken and struggling for words 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 Matúš Šutaj Eštok said “everyone needs to calm down.” 

“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.

2:58 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Fico’s assassination attempt was politically motivated, interior minister says

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova

Slovak Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok speaks during a press conference at a hospital in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, on Wednesday.
Slovak Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok speaks during a press conference at a hospital in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, on Wednesday. Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

The assassination attempt of Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was politically motivated, the country’s interior minister said, adding the information is based on “initial interviews with the suspect.”

“This assassination attempt was politically motivated and the suspect made the decision to do it shortly after the presidential election,” Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok told a news conference outside the hospital in Banská Bystrica, where the prime minister is being treated.

“It is clear this was politically motivated,” Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák said, speaking alongside Eštok.

Kaliňák said Fico “suffered multiple injuries,” but did not provide any details when reporters asked if the prime minister was shot in the stomach.

This post has been updated with additional comments from the defense minister.

2:24 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Prime Minister Fico was shot five times, interior minister says

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova in London

Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot five times, Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said.

“The perpetrator shot five times. The prime minister is in a critical condition, still on the operating table. We will do everything we can to investigate this,” Eštok said at a news conference.

The perpetrator has been arrested, he added.

2:39 p.m. ET, May 15, 2024

Slovakia’s prime minister “still fighting for his life,” defense minister says

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova in London

Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico from a helicopter to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, on Wednesday.
Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico from a helicopter to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, on Wednesday. Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP

Prime Minister Robert Fico is “still fighting for his life,” Robert Kaliňák, Slovakia’s minister of defense, said in a press conference in the hospital where Fico is being treated.

“The surgery has been going on for three-and-a-half hours. His medical state is really very complex,” he added.

“We are singularly focused on the health of Robert Fico. And we are hoping he will be strong enough to pull through,” Kaliňák said.

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