Slovak Prime Minister able to speak as police charge assassination attempt suspect

Banska Bystrica, Slovakia - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was able to speak but remained in serious condition on Thursday, officials said as police charged a suspect for the assassination attempt.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico walks during the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 18, 2024.
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico walks during the European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on April 18, 2024.  © Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

President-elect Peter Pellegrini briefed journalists a day after the shooting, which has prompted fears of further violence in the politically polarised nation just weeks before European parliament elections.

"He is able to speak but only a few sentences and then he is really, really tired... The situation is very critical," Pellegrini said outside the hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica.

"The doctors asked me to make a really very short visit," he added. "I told him that we stand behind him."

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But he said that "very difficult hours and days" lay ahead for Fico.

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Picture taken on Wednesday shows Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico being transported from a helicopter by medics to the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia for treatment after he had been shot "multiple times."
Picture taken on Wednesday shows Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico being transported from a helicopter by medics to the hospital in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia for treatment after he had been shot "multiple times."  © AFP

On Wednesday, train conductor Richard Krajcik was hoping to get a selfie with Fico after a government meeting in the central town of Handlova when shots rang out.

"Everything happened so fast," Krajcik told AFP, gazing at the spot in the main square where Fico was struck.

Former police chief Stefan Hamran slammed the prime minister's bodyguards, telling AFP that "they reacted late, they reacted badly."

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"Instead of throwing themselves at the assailant... they moved in the opposite direction and tried to dodge the shots," he said.

Wednesday's attack has stoked fears in the deeply polarized nation, as officials drew a link between the political situation and the suspect's motives.

Police charged the suspect, identified as 71-year-old writer Juraj Cintula in local media, with attempted murder Thursday.

"This is a lone wolf whose actions were accelerated after the presidential election since he was dissatisfied with its outcome," Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said.

The suspect's longtime neighbor, Ludovit Mile, said Cintula was "friendly, helpful."

"He must have gone crazy," he told AFP.

Prime Minister Robert Fico's controversial relationship with Ukraine

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (r.) shakes hands with Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico (l.) in Moscow on November 11, 2009.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (r.) shakes hands with Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico (l.) in Moscow on November 11, 2009.  © AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI / POOL / ALEXEY NIKOLSKY ALEXEY NIKOLSKY / RIA NOVOSTI / AFP

Pellegrini, who won last month's presidential vote and is a political ally of Fico, called for calm and urged political parties to halt campaigning for the EU parliament election when far-right parties are expected to gain votes.

The biggest opposition party, centrist Progressive Slovakia, and others announced that they had already stopped their election lobbying.

Slovakia's political scene has been divided for years between pro-European and nationalist-leaning camps. Disinformation and attacks on social media featured heavily during the latest election campaign.

Pellegrini, who takes office in June, said in a joint statement with outgoing President Zuzana Caputova that Slovakia should avoid "further confrontation."

Fico also headed the government in 2006-10 and 2012-18. He was forced to resign in 2018 after an investigative journalist's murder exposed high-level corruption.

Since returning to office, Fico has made a string of remarks that have soured ties between Slovakia and neighboring Ukraine after he questioned Ukraine's sovereignty.

After he was elected, Slovakia stopped sending weapons to Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia in 2022.

Cover photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

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