The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Slovakia's prime minister undergoes another operation; he remains in serious condition

Associated Press Sunday, 19 May 2024, 05:50 Last update: about 29 days ago

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has undergone another operation two days after being shot multiple times and remains in serious condition, officials said.

Fico, 59, was attacked as he was greeting supporters after a government meeting in the former coal mining town of Handlova. A suspected assailant has been arrested.

Miriam Lapuníková, director of the University F. D. Roosevelt hospital in Banska Bystrica, where Fico was taken by helicopter after he was shot, said Fico underwent a CT scan and was awake and stable in an intensive care unit. She described his condition as “very serious.”

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She said the surgery removed dead tissues that had remained inside Fico's body.

“I think it will take several more days until we will definitely know the direction of the further development," Robert Kaliniak, the defense minister and deputy prime minister, told reporters at the hospital.

Still, Kaliniak stressed that the government continues to work.

“The ministries are working on all their duties, nothing is frozen or halted, the country goes on," he told reporters. “The state is stable and today the patient is stable as well."

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond. His return to power last year on a pro-Russia, anti-American platform led to worries among fellow European Union and NATO members that he would abandon his country’s pro-Western course, particularly on Ukraine.

World leaders have condemned the attack and offered support for Fico and Slovakia. On Friday, the Slovak press agency reported that Pope Francis has sent a letter to President Zuzana Čaputová,

“I condemn this cowardly act of violence and assure you of my prayers to the Lord for the speedy recovery and recovery of the Prime Minister,” Francis said in the letter published by the agency.

Earlier Friday, the man charged with attempting to assassinate Fico was escorted by police to his home. Local media reported that it was part of a search for evidence.

Markiza, a Slovak television station, showed footage of the suspect being taken to his home in the town of Levice on Friday morning, and reported that police had seized a computer and some documents. Police didn't comment.

Prosecutors have told police not to publicly identify the suspect or release other details about the case. The suspect's detention will be reviewed at a hearing Saturday at Slovakia's Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, outside the capital, Bratislava.

Unconfirmed media reports suggested that he was a 71-year-old retiree who was known as an amateur poet, and may have previously worked as a security guard at a mall in the country’s southwest.

Government authorities on Thursday gave details that matched that description. They said the suspect didn't belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

Slovakia’s presidential office said Friday that it was working to organize a meeting of leaders of all parliamentary parties for Tuesday. Čaputová, the outgoing president, announced the plan together with President-elect Peter Pellegrini, who succeeds her in mid-June, in an attempt to reduce social tensions in the country.

At the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Slovakia was one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, but 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 give the government 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.

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 fueling tensions.

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.

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