Slovakia PM Robert Fico remains in serious condition but prognosis ‘positive’

19 May 2024, 18:04

Flowers are placed outside the FD Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated, in Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia
Slovakia Prime Minister. Picture: PA

Defence minister Robert Kalinak said there may have been a ‘third party’ involved in ‘acting for the benefit of the perpetrator’.

Slovakia’s populist prime minister Robert Fico remains in a serious condition but has been given a positive prognosis four days after he was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt that has sent shockwaves across the deeply polarised European Union nation, the defence minister said.

“The worst of what we feared has passed, at least for the moment. But his condition remains serious,” Robert Kalinak told reporters outside the hospital where Mr Fico is being treated.

“His condition is stable with a positive prognosis.”

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

Mr Kalinak added that the hospital treating the Slovak leader in Banska Bystrica, a former coal mining town of 16,000 people situated 29 kilometres (17 miles) from where Mr Fico was attacked, will continue to issue updates on his health status.

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Kalinak revealed new details about the ongoing investigation, saying there may have been a “third party” involved in “acting for the benefit of the perpetrator”, in what was previously described by the authorities as a “lone wolf” attack.

The official did not provide additional details.

“The situation is turning out to be even worse than we expected,” Mr Kalinak said.

“Plus other indications that these facts of Wednesday’s attack have been discussed in a wider circle. All of this is shocking information, and for many of us, it would be much easier if we could talk about just one person.”

Milan Urbani, deputy director of the hospital, told reporters: “Based on the doctors’ morning consultation, we can conclude that the patient is currently out of a life-threatening condition.

“His condition remains very serious, and he needs a long time to rest to recover. We firmly believe that everything will go in a good direction.”

Mr Fico, 59, was shot in the abdomen as he greeted supporters on Wednesday outside a cultural centre in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometres (85 miles) north-east of the capital Bratislava.

Deputy prime minister and defence minister of Slovakia Robert Kalinak arrives for a press conference at the government headquarters in Bratislava
Deputy prime minister and defence minister of Slovakia Robert Kalinak arrives for a press conference at the government headquarters in Bratislava (Tomas Benedikovic/AP)

Video showed the Slovak premier approach people gathered at barricades and reach out to shake hands as a man stepped forward, extended his arm and fired five rounds before being tackled and arrested.

On Friday, Mr Fico underwent two hours of surgery to remove dead tissue from his gunshot wounds, but he was not healthy enough to be transferred to the capital, officials said on Saturday.

The country’s Specialised Criminal Court in the town of Pezinok on Saturday ordered the suspected assailant, who is charged with attempted murder, to remain behind bars.

Prosecutors said they feared he could flee or commit other crimes if freed, a court spokesperson said.

The suspect can appeal against the order.

Little information about the suspected would-be assassin has been disclosed after prosecutors told police not to publicly identify him or release details about the case.

Unconfirmed media reports have named him and said he was a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet who may have once worked as a shopping centre security guard.

Government authorities have given details that matched that description.

Interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok addresses media during a press conference at the government headquarters in Bratislava
Interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok during a press conference at the government headquarters in Bratislava (Tomas Benedikovic/AP)

They said the suspect did not belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

Slovakia’s interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok said on Sunday that the attack on Mr Fico is an “attack on democracy in any normal country”.

“At a time when democracy is being attacked, it must be the security forces that have to give a clear signal that they are prepared to protect the population of the Slovak Republic,” he said.

Mr Fico said last month on Facebook that he believed rising tensions in the country could lead to the killing of politicians, and he blamed the media for fuelling tensions in the country of 5.4 million people.

Slovakia’s three-party coalition government has also partly accused the media of fuelling the vitriolic discourse that has beleaguered the EU country in recent years and led to deep social divisions.

Andrej Danko, chairman of the government’s smallest coalition partner, the Slovak National Party, said on Sunday he is expecting a government meeting early next week to discuss media laws and journalistic ethics, including how journalists report on domestic politics.

In his address on Sunday, Mr Kalinak also stressed that lessons must be learned from the violent attack on Mr Fico, who has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond.

“This must be a memento. If we don’t learn, we’re heading for hell,” he said.

Pavol Gaspar, acting director of the Slovak Information Service, addresses media during a press conference at the government headquarters in Bratislava
Pavol Gaspar, acting director of the Slovak Information Service, addresses the media during a press conference at the government headquarters (Tomas Benedikovic/AP)

“We need to bring this situation back to what we can consider standard.”

Mr Fico’s government has made efforts to overhaul public broadcasting – a move critics said would give the government full control of public television and radio.

That, along with his plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor, has led opponents to worry that Mr Fico will lead Slovakia down a more autocratic path.

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

At the St Francis Xavier Cathedral in Banska Bystrica on Sunday, churchgoer and lawyer Pavel Bachleda called the assassination attempt “a great tragedy” but also expressed concerns about how Mr Fico and his Smer, or Direction, party has conducted itself in recent years.

“I would say partly also his actions, his actions in the previous months and years, have brought about the situation in our country,” he told The Associated Press.

“You get the impression that they concentrate more on revenge, political revenge than on real things that our country needs.”

By Press Association

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