Slovak PM shooting: Suspect in detention

BRATISLAVA  -   Slovakia’s health minister said Saturday the prognosis for Prime Minister Robert Fico was “positive” after an assassination attempt as a court put the suspected gunman in pre-trial detention. Fico has been in hospital since Wednesday when a lone gunman shot him four times, including in the abdomen. He underwent a five-hour surgery on Wednesday and another surgery on Friday.

both at a hospital in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica.

“Yesterday’s surgery, which took two hours, contributed to a positive prognosis of the prime minister’s health condition,” Health Minister Zuzana Dolinkova told reporters.

“The prime minister’s condition is stable, but despite this it’s still serious,” she added.

The suspected gunman, identified by Slovak media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula, was placed in pre-trial detention by a special penal court in Pezinok northeast of the capital Bratislava on Saturday.

“The reason... is concerns about a potential escape or that the criminal activity may continue,” court spokeswoman Katarina Kudjakova told AFP.

The decision followed a request from a prosecutor made Friday. Cintula had been charged with a premeditated murder attempt earlier.

Fico was shot as he was walking to greet supporters after a government meeting in the central mining town of Handlova.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said earlier that if one of the shots “went just a few centimetres higher, it would have hit the prime minister’s liver”.

Defence minister and deputy premier Robert Kalinak, Fico’s closest political ally, said the prime minister was conscious and his condition allowed him to recover.

“I don’t think he could be taken to Bratislava in the coming days, his condition is still serious,” he told reporters outside the hospital.

Kalinak told the TA3 news channel later on Saturday that Fico had suffered four gunshot wounds, two light, one medium and one serious.

He added doctors had removed all potentially infectious material from his wounds during Friday’s surgery.

“It will take the organism four or five days to start winning over such injuries, but we’re not there yet,” Kalinak said, hailing the good physical shape of the prime minister known as a keen runner and body-builder.

The 59-year-old Fico took office in October after his centrist populist Smer party won a general election.

He is serving his fourth term as prime minister after campaigning on proposals for peace between Russia and Slovakia’s neighbour Ukraine, and for halting military aid to Kyiv, which his government later did.

Kalinak said the government would carry on without Fico “according to the programme he has outlined”, including two meetings next week.

The assassination attempt has deeply shocked the EU and NATO member country of 5.4 million people, already sharply divided over politics for years.

Outgoing pro-Western President Zuzana Caputova and her successor Peter Pellegrini, a Fico ally who will take office in June, have called on fellow Slovaks to refrain from “confrontation” after the shooting.

They called a meeting of all parliamentary party leaders for Tuesday in a bid to show unity in the aftermath of the attack.

Kalinak however suggested Smer would snub the meeting.

“They invited political party chiefs and our chairman is in the hands of doctors,” he said.

Kalinak added he would call Caputova about the matter, stressing that Slovakia needed “reconciliation and peace”.

But he was among politicians pointing fingers at their opponents for the attack, slamming the opposition and “selected media” on Friday for labelling Fico as a criminal, dictator or Russian President Vladimir Putin’s servant before the assassination attempt.

“All these lies are the main reason why Robert Fico is fighting for his life today,” he said in an emotional message on Smer’s website.

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