Slovak PM shooting: Doctors upbeat, suspect arrives in court

AFP , Saturday 18 May 2024

Slovakia's health minister said Saturday that the prognosis for Prime Minister Robert Fico was "positive" after an assassination attempt, while the suspected gunman appeared in court for the first time.

Media is seen outside the gate, awaiting the arrival of shooting suspect Juraj C, at the Specialized
Media is seen outside the gate, awaiting the arrival of shooting suspect Juraj C, at the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, north of Bratislava, Slovakia on May 18, 2024. AFP


Fico has been in hospital since Wednesday when a lone gunman shot him four times, including in the abdomen.

He underwent a five-hour surgery on Wednesday and a two-hour surgery on Friday, both at a hospital in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica.

"Yesterday's surgery, which took two hours, contributed to a positive prognosis of the prime minister's health condition," Minister Zuzana Dolinkova told reporters.

"The prime minister's condition is stable, but despite this, it's still serious," she added.

The suspected gunman, identified by Slovak media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula, arrived in a special penal court in Pezinok northeast of the capital Bratislava on Saturday morning.

The court is considering a prosecutor's request made Friday that Cintula be placed in pre-trial detention after he had been charged with a premeditated murder attempt.

Cintula fired five shots at Fico and hit him four times as the prime minister was walking towards his supporters after a government meeting in the central mining town of Handlova.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said earlier that if one of the shots "went just a few centimetres higher, it would have hit the prime minister's liver".

Defence minister and deputy premier Robert Kalinak, Fico's closest political ally, said the prime minister was conscious and his condition allowed him to recover.

"I don't think he could be taken to Bratislava in the coming days, his condition is still serious," he told reporters.

The 59-year-old Fico took office in October after his centrist populist Smer party won a general election.

He is serving his fourth term as prime minister after campaigning on proposals for peace between Russia and Slovakia's neighbour Ukraine, and for halting military aid to Kyiv, which his government later did.

Kalinak said the government would carry on without Fico "according to the programme he has outlined", including two meetings next week.


'All these lies'

The assassination attempt has deeply shocked the EU and NATO member country of 5.4 million people, already sharply divided over politics for years.

Outgoing pro-Western President Zuzana Caputova and her successor Peter Pellegrini, a Fico ally who will take office in June, have called on fellow Slovaks to refrain from "confrontation" after the shooting.

They called a meeting of all parliamentary party leaders for Tuesday in a bid to show unity in the aftermath of the attack.

Kalinak however suggested Smer would snub the meeting.

"They invited political party chiefs and our chairman is in the hands of doctors," he said.

Kalinak added he would call Caputova about the matter, stressing that Slovakia needed "reconciliation and peace".

But he was among politicians pointing fingers at their opponents for allegedly causing the attack, slamming opposition politicians and "selected media" on Friday for labelling Fico as a criminal, dictator or Russian President Vladimir Putin's servant before the attack.

"All these lies are the main reason why Robert Fico is fighting for his life today," he said in an emotional message on Smer's website.

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