Slovak PM’s shooting: ‘positive’ health outlook, suspect in detention

A view of the hospital where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, May 17, 2024. /CFP

A view of the hospital where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, May 17, 2024. /CFP

Slovakia’s health minister said on 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 a two-hour 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.

Slovak Defense Minister Robert Kalinak gestures as he addresses a press conference in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, May 18, 2024. /CFP

Slovak Defense Minister Robert Kalinak gestures as he addresses a press conference in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, May 18, 2024. /CFP

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.

Cintula fired five shots at Fico and hit him four times as the prime minister was walking towards his 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 centimeters higher, it would have hit the prime minister’s liver.”

Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said the prime minister was conscious, and his condition allowed him to recover.

Taking office in October after his centrist populist Smer party won a general election, the 59-year-old Fico is serving his fourth term as prime minister.

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

Police are on guard as shooting suspect Juraj Cintula is at a special penal court in Pezinok, northeast of the capital Bratislava, Slovakia, May 18, 2024. /CFP

Police are on guard as shooting suspect Juraj Cintula is at a special penal court in Pezinok, northeast of the capital Bratislava, Slovakia, May 18, 2024. /CFP

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

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

(With input from AFP)