HANDLOVA (Slovakia), May 15 — Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico suffered life-threatening injuries when he was shot and wounded in an attempted assassination today, the government office said.

Fico, 59, was rushed to hospital in the central city of Handlova after holding a government meeting there, and was being transported by helicopter to the city of Banska Bystrica for urgent treatment, it said.

A Reuters witness heard several shots fired after the meeting in Handlova northeast of the capital Bratislava. Police detained a man and security officials pushed someone into a car and drove off, the witness said.

“An assassination (attempt) on Prime Minister Robert Fico was carried out today at the government’s off-site meeting in Handlova,” the government office said in a statement.

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“At the moment he is being transported by helicopter to Banska Bystrica, because it would take too long to Bratislava in view of the necessity of an acute intervention.”

Emergency Services said they had received information about a man being shot in Handlova shortly after 2.30pm (8.30pm Malaysian time) and sent an emergency helicopter to a 59-year old patient.

Broadcaster TA3 reported four shots were fired, and that the leftist prime minister had been hit in the abdomen.

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, led condemnation of the attack, which also shocked the European Union and NATO member state’s allies in central Europe.

“Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good. My thoughts are with PM Fico, his family”, von der Leyen said.

Return to power

The Slovak government was meeting in Handlova, 190 kilometres northeast of Bratislava, as part of a tour of the country’s regions after coming to power late last year.

Fico became prime minister for the fourth time last year after shifting political gears to appeal to a changing electorate.

During a three-decade career, Fico has moved between the pro-European mainstream and nationalistic positions opposed to European Union and US policies. He has also shown a willingness to change course depending on public opinion or changed political realities.

Following the shooting, Slovakia’s biggest opposition party called off a planned protest against government public broadcaster reforms set for Wednesday evening.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova wrote on X: “Utterly shocked by today’s brutal attack on #Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, which I condemn in strongest possible terms.”

“I wish him lot of strength in this critical moment and early recovery.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed shock on X, adding: “News of the cowardly assassination attempt on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico shocks me deeply. Violence must have no place in European politics.”

Austria’s conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer also said he was shocked, adding: “Hate and violence must not be allowed to take hold in our democracies and must be fought with the utmost determination!” — Reuters