POLITICS

Suspected would-be assassin ordered detained as Slovak prime minister’s condition is stable

May 18, 2024, 3:08 AM | Updated: 6:24 am

PEZINOK, Slovakia (AP) — The man accused of attempting to assassinate Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was ordered to remain behind bars Saturday. Fico is in serious but stable condition after surviving multiple gunshots, officials said.

Slovakia’s Specialized Criminal Court ordered the detention of the suspect after prosecutors said they feared he could flee or carry out other crimes if set free, a court spokesperson said. The suspect can appeal the order to the Supreme Court.

Fico, 59, was shot in the abdomen as he greeted supporters following a government meeting Wednesday in the former coal mining town of Handlova, officials said. The suspect fired five rounds before being tackled to the ground and arrested.

Prosecutors told police not to publicly identify the man or release other details about the case, but unconfirmed media reports said he was a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet who may have once worked as a mall security guard in the country’s southwest.

Government authorities gave details that matched that description. They said the suspect didn’t belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

The courthouse in Pezinok, a small town outside the capital, Bratislava, was guarded by police wearing helmets and balaclavas and carrying rifles. News media were not allowed in and reporters were kept behind a gate outside.

The suspect left the courthouse just hours after government ministers announced that Fico’s condition looked promising after two hours of surgery Friday to remove dead tissue from multiple gunshot wounds. But he still is not healthy enough to travel to a hospital in the capital, Bratislava.

“Several miracles have occurred … in the past few days, coming from the hands of the doctors, nurses and entire medical staff,” Defense Minister Rober Kalinak said outside University F. D. Roosevelt Hospital in Banská Bystrica, where Fico was taken by helicopter after the shooting. “I can’t find words of gratitude for the fact that we are steadily approaching that positive prognosis.”

Police on Friday took the suspect to his home in the town of Levice and seized a computer and some documents, Markiza, a Slovak television station, reported. Police didn’t comment.

With police remaining largely silent about the case, it was not clear how the suspect came to possess a firearm.

Slovakia has strict rules on firearms and gun owners must have a good reason to possess one and are required to pass a test.

As a consequence, Slovakia has one of the lowest gun ownership rates in Europe. It was ranked 23rd out of 27 European Union countries with a gun ownership rate of 6.5 per 100 people, according to the Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the EU.

World leaders have condemned the attack and offered support for Fico and Slovakia.

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond. His return to power last year on a pro-Russia, anti-American platform led to worries among fellow European Union and NATO members that he would abandon his country’s pro-Western course, particularly on Ukraine.

At the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Slovakia was one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, but Fico halted arms deliveries to Ukraine when he returned to power, his fourth time serving as prime minister.

Fico’s government has also made efforts to overhaul public broadcasting — a move critics said would give the government full control of public television and radio. That, coupled with his plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor, have led opponents to worry that Fico will lead Slovakia down a more autocratic path.

Thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly rallied in the capital and around the country of 5.4 million to protest his policies.

Fico said last month on Facebook that he believed rising tensions in the country could lead to the killing of politicians, and he blamed the media for fueling tensions.

Before Fico returned to power last year, many of his political and business associates were the focus of police investigations, and dozens have been charged.

His plan to overhaul the penal system would eliminate the office of the special prosecutor that deals with organized crime, corruption and extremism.

Despite nobody being named as temporary leader, there was nothing imminent that needed the premier’s attention and the government was operating as planned and moving forward with Fico’s agenda, Kalinak said.

Communication with Fico was limited given his condition, Kalinak said.

The next government session is planned for Wednesday and Kalinak will be in charge, the Slovak government office said.

___

Associated Press reporters Karel Janicek in Vsetin, Czech Republic, and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.

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Suspected would-be assassin ordered detained as Slovak prime minister’s condition is stable