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Slovakia's populist prime minister shot in assassination attempt

Slovakia's populist prime minister shot in assassination attempt


Slovakia's populist prime minister shot in assassination attempt

BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s populist prime minister, Robert Fico, was shot multiple times and gravely wounded Wednesday while greeting supporters at a event in an attempted assassination that shocked the small country and reverberated across Europe weeks before an election.

Doctors were still fighting for his life several hours after the pro-Russian leader, 59, was hit in the abdomen, Defense Minister Robert Kalina told reporters at the hospital where Fico was being treated for his wounds.

He said an operation on Fico was not yet complete and described his condition as “extraordinarily serious.”

Five shots were fired outside a cultural center in the town of Handlova, nearly 85 miles northeast of the capital, government officials said. Fico was shot while attending a meeting of his government in the town of 16,000 that was once a center of coal mining.

A suspect was in custody, and an initial investigation found “a clear political motivation” behind the assassination attempt, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said as he briefed reporters alongside the defense minister.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Kalinak added.

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond, but his return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American message led to even greater worries among fellow European Union members that he would lead his country further from the Western mainstream.

His government halted arms deliveries to Ukraine, and critics worry that he will lead Slovakia — a nation of 5.4 million that belongs to NATO — to abandon its pro-Western course and follow in the footsteps of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thousands have repeatedly rallied in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.