Slovakia’s PM ‘is between life and death’: Hungarian PM reveals health update as doctors


Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is between life and death two days after an assassination attempt that sent shock waves across Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday.

The shooting – allegedly carried out by ‘lone-wolf’ gunman Juraj Cintula, 71 – was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years, and has drawn international condemnation.

Political analysts and lawmakers say it has exposed an increasingly febrile and polarised political climate both in Slovakia and across Europe.

‘We are praying for the prime minister and root for Slovakia,’ Orban said. ‘We wish him a speedy recovery and return to work. Robert Fico is between life and death.’

Orban said even if Fico recovers, he would be out of work for months at a critical time in the run-up to European Parliament elections due early next month.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico is between life and death two days after an assassination attempt that sent shock waves across Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday. Pictured: Security scramble to tackle the shooter to the ground

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is between life and death two days after an assassination attempt that sent shock waves across Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday. Pictured: Security scramble to tackle the shooter to the ground

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is bundled into a car moments after being shot

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is bundled into a car moments after being shot

The shooting - allegedly carried out by 'lone-wolf' gunman Juraj Cintula, 71 (pictured) - was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years, and has drawn international condemnation

The shooting – allegedly carried out by ‘lone-wolf’ gunman Juraj Cintula, 71 (pictured) – was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years, and has drawn international condemnation

Graphic depicting the events around the shooting of Slovakian PM Robert Fico

Graphic depicting the events around the shooting of Slovakian PM Robert Fico

‘We are facing an election that will decide not just about members of European Parliament but along with the US election can determine the course of war and peace in Europe,’ Orban said.

‘In that situation we would have badly needed Robert Fico and a pro-peace Slovakia.’

Slovakia’s President-Elect Peter Pellegrini said on Thursday that Fico remains in a serious but stable condition and is able to speak a little.

Slovak doctors are expected to meet on Monday to assess Fico’s health and discuss the possibility of transporting him from the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica to the capital Bratislava, local media reported on Friday.

The aktuality.sk news website attributed this information to a hospital director.

The hospital in Banska Bystrica did not immediately respond to a request for comment when contacted by Reuters news agency.

Cintula, meanwhile, is facing life in prison if convicted of the ‘lone wolf’, ‘politically motivated’ attack after being charged on Thursday.

The assassination attempt has prompted Fico’s populist allies to seize on the shooting with calls to close the Liberal Party and crack down on the free media – with some characterising the would-be assassin as a liberal.

But enquiries reveal the poet and retired security guard has a muddled political past having rallied against communism, migrants, and violence and links to a group called the Slovak Conscripts – a pro-Russian Slovak militia.

The shooting attack on Wednesday shocked the nation and reverberated across the continent weeks ahead of elections for the European Parliament.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (pictured speaking earlier this week) told public radio on Friday that Fico is 'between life and death'. 'We are facing an election that will decide not just about members of European Parliament but along with the US election can determine the course of war and peace in Europe,' Orban said

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (pictured speaking earlier this week) told public radio on Friday that Fico is ‘between life and death’. ‘We are facing an election that will decide not just about members of European Parliament but along with the US election can determine the course of war and peace in Europe,’ Orban said

Fico is seen being transported from a medical helicopter after he was shot on Wednesday

Fico is seen being transported from a medical helicopter after he was shot on Wednesday

Security personnel are seen apprehending a suspected gunman after Slovakia's Prime Minister Fico was shot in Handlova on May 15, 2024

Security personnel are seen apprehending a suspected gunman after Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico was shot in Handlova on May 15, 2024

The assassination attempt has prompted Fico's populist allies to seize on the shooting with calls to close the Liberal Party and crack down on the free media - with some characterising the would-be assassin as a liberal. But enquiries reveal the suspect - believed to be a poet and retired security guard - has a muddled political past

The assassination attempt has prompted Fico’s populist allies to seize on the shooting with calls to close the Liberal Party and crack down on the free media – with some characterising the would-be assassin as a liberal. But enquiries reveal the suspect – believed to be a poet and retired security guard – has a muddled political past

Fico’s own pro-Russia views have contributed to deep divisions in the small European country that borders Ukraine.

While Pelligrini and current President Zuzana Caputova urged people to dial back the sharp rhetoric that has characterized the country’s political debate, some Fico allies took aim at Slovakia’s media for contributing to the polarization.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok asked journalists to ‘reflect’ on how they had covered Fico’s policies.

He referred to the suspect – who was charged with premeditated murder – as a ‘lone wolf’ who did not belong to any political groups, though he said the attack itself was politically motivated.

‘I can confirm that this person is not a member of any right-wing or left-wing radicalized party,’ Estok said.

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond.

His return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American message led to even greater 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 invasion, Slovakia was one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters.

However, 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 result in the government’s 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.

Slovak police have provided little information on the identity of the suspect.

But unconfirmed media reports suggested it was Cintula – a 71-year-old retiree who was known as an amateur poet – and who may have previously worked as a security guard at a mall in the country’s southwest.

At a news conference on Thursday following a meeting of Slovakia’s Security Council, ministers gave more details about the man, while still not naming him.

Newly elected President of Slovakia, Peter Pellegrini, said on Thursday that the PM was millimetres from death

Newly elected President of Slovakia, Peter Pellegrini, said on Thursday that the PM was millimetres from death

Estok said the suspect cited his dissatisfaction with several of Fico’s policies as motivation for the attack.

The minister said presidential elections in the spring prompted the assault, and that the suspect had attended a recent anti-government protest.

‘I can confirm to you that the reason it was a politically motivated, attempted premeditated murder is as the suspect himself said: the media information that he had at his disposal,’ he said.

‘I think each of you can reflect on the way you presented it.’

At the same news conference, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak also blamed the media for tensions in the country.

Those remarks stood in contrast to a news conference earlier in the day when the country’s outgoing and next presidents – political rivals – appeared together in an appeal for Slovaks to overcome their increasingly tense political differences.

‘Let us step out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations,’ said Caputova, the outgoing president and a rival of Fico’s.

Pellegrini, the president-elect, called on political parties to suspend or scale back their campaigns for European elections, which will be held June 6-9.

‘If there is anything that the people of Slovakia urgently need today, it is at least basic agreement and unity among the Slovak political representation,’ he said.

‘And if not consensus, then please, at least civilised ways of discussing among each other.’

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

Grigorij Meseznikov, a political scientist who heads the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava, said he disagreed that media played any role in inciting violence against Fico.

‘We have very good and independent media in Slovakia. The media is doing its job.’

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

Juraj Cintula, 71, is a writer and founder member of a literary club. His son was quoted as telling local media: 'I have no idea what father intended, what he planned, why it happened. Maybe there was some short circuit'

Juraj Cintula, 71, is a writer and founder member of a literary club. His son was quoted as telling local media: ‘I have no idea what father intended, what he planned, why it happened. Maybe there was some short circuit’

The wife of the man suspected of launching an assassination attempt on Slovakia's PM - leaving him in critical condition - has been put under police protection

The wife of the man suspected of launching an assassination attempt on Slovakia’s PM – leaving him in critical condition – has been put under police protection

Zuzana Eliasova, a resident of the capital, Bratislava, said the attack on Fico was a ‘shock’ to the nation and an attack on democracy.

‘I believe that a lot of people or even the whole society will look into their conscience, because the polarization here has been huge among all different parts of society,’ she said.

Doctors performed a five-hour operation on Fico, who was initially reported to be in life-threatening condition, according to director of the F.D. Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, Miriam Lapunikova. He is being treated in an intensive care unit.

Five shots were fired as Fico was greeting supporters at an event Wednesday in the former coal mining town of Handlova, nearly 85 miles northeast of the capital, government officials said.

Fico returned to power in Slovakia last year after having previously served three terms as prime minister.

He and his Smer party have most often been described as left-populist, though he has also been compared to politicians on the right like the nationalist prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Orbán.

In 2022, Fico was charged with organised crime offences and faced questions after an investigative journalist was shot dead in 2018.

Ján Kuciak was working on a story about the activities of the Italian mafia in his country and their links to people close to Fico when he was assassinated.

The murders of Kuciak, 28, and his fiancée Martina Kušnirová brought down Fico’s government at the time. However, the 2022 organised crime charges were later dropped and he went on to be re-elected in 2023.

The PM was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava

The PM was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava

Condemnation of the attack came from both Fico’s allies and adversaries abroad. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to President Caputova, expressing his support and wishing the prime minister a fast and full recovery.

‘This atrocious crime cannot be justified,’ Putin said in the message released by the Kremlin. ‘I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-willed person. I truly hope these personal qualities will help him overcome this harsh situation.’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also denounced the violence against a neighbouring country’s head of government.

‘Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form or sphere,’ he said.



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