Slovak PM Fico’s Attacker May Not Have Acted Alone, Says Minister

By Jan Lopatka, Claudia Greco and Ayhan Uyanik
May 19, 2024

BRATISLAVA/BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia (Reuters) -The suspect in an assassination attempt on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico may not have been just a “lone wolf” as previously believed, the interior minister said on Sunday, as security services try to shed light on an attack that sent shockwaves through Europe.

Fico is no longer in immediate danger but is still in a serious condition after being hit by four bullets on Wednesday, in what was the first major assassination attempt on a European political leader for more than 20 years.

The incident has highlighted the deep polarisation of politics in the central European country of 5.4 million people.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said an investigation team had been set up, which would also look into whether the suspect acted as part of a group of people that had been encouraging each other to carry out an assassination.

One factor suggesting the involvement of other persons was that the suspect’s internet communications were deleted two hours after the assassination attempt, but not by the suspect and most likely not by his wife, Estok said.

This indicated “the crime may have been committed by a certain group of people,” Estok told a news conference.

Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said earlier on Sunday that Fico’s life was no longer in immediate danger, although his condition was still too serious for him to be moved to a hospital in the capital Bratislava.

“The worst that we feared has (not happened), at least for the time being,” Kalinak told a news conference outside the hospital where Fico is being treated in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica.

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“We are all a little calmer. When we were saying that we want to get closer to a positive prognosis, then I believe that we are a step closer to that,” he added.

SUSPECT CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED MURDER

The Slovak Specialised Criminal Court ruled on Saturday that the suspect, identified by prosecutors as Juraj C., would remain in custody after being charged with attempted murder.

Local news media say the suspect is a 71-year-old former security guard at a shopping mall and the author of three collections of poetry.

There has been no official statement made public from the suspect, or any lawyer representing him.

Estok said on Thursday that the suspect was angered by the government’s Ukraine policy. Fico’s government has ended official military support for Ukraine and taken a more pro-Russian line on the conflict than most European Union partners.

The government has said he became radicalised after Fico ally Peter Pellegrini won a presidential election last month, and that he had told police about his dissatisfaction with the government’s reforms of the prosecution service and public media – criticised by the opposition a well as the European Commission.

DIVISIONS

The assassination attempt has led to calls from across Slovakia’s political spectrum for a calming of tensions and a toning down of the often fierce rhetoric that has marked public debate in recent years.

On Thursday, president-elect Pellegrini and outgoing President Zuzana Caputova, a critic of Fico who is due to hand over the top job in June, called for unity and invited the leaders of the nation’s political parties to attend round-table talks.

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However, in a video posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, Pellegrini said that he now believed the time was probably not right for such talks, after Fico’s ruling party also raised doubts about holding them now.

Recent days and press conferences have shown us that some politicians are simply incapable of basic self-reflection even after such a tragedy,” Pellegrini said.

The government and opposition have traded accusations of stirring up divisions within society. The leader of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, Michal Simecka, said in a statement that he was sorry some parties had rejected round-table talks and that he still believed they could succeed.

Slovak police said on Sunday they had arrested three people over social media posts which expressed approval of the assassination attempt.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Ayhan Uyanik, Christine Uyanik; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Susan Fenton)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

Αttempted assassination of Robert Fico. A very bad signal for democracy and peace in Europe

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