Speculation swirls in Slovakia, with few details about Fico attack

Questions swirled in Slovakia on Friday, as shock over the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico began to give way to unease about what comes next for the deeply polarized country.

Authorities have kept details about the attack, the attacker and even who runs the country to a minimum while the prime minister is hospitalized. Authorities say they will provide more information soon, but that the situation is delicate.

They have not named the suspect (whom Slovakia’s Interior Minister described as a “lone wolf” radicalized after last month’s presidential election) or said when he will appear in court to face a charge of attempted premeditated murder. They have called the shooting politically motivated, while urging the public and politicians to reduce political rhetoric and hate as investigations unfold.

Local media reported on Friday that police officers escorted the suspect to his home in the central Slovak town of Levice, where they searched the premises and confiscated documents. Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Details about Mr. Fico’s injuries and condition have also been closely guarded. Local media reported that doctors will meet on Monday to determine whether the prime minister can be transferred to the capital, Bratislava, from the intensive care unit of a hospital in central Slovakia where he underwent surgery.

On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said at a news conference that Fico’s condition had stabilized but that he was “not out of a life-threatening situation” and faced a “difficult” recovery.

“I must say that his health condition is very serious,” Slovakia’s president-elect Peter Pellegrini said after visiting Fico at the hospital in Banska Bystrica on Thursday afternoon.

And there has been no formal announcement about who will govern in Fico’s absence. Local media quoted ministers as saying Kalinak had been leading meetings.

Authorities are organizing two investigations – one into the attacker and the other into the response of security forces at the scene – and have urged not to rush to judgment.

Slovak officials have acknowledged that there is criticism of the officers’ actions. Local media outlets have published interviews with security experts analyzing the gunman’s movements and the officers’ responses to try to understand how the attacker could have fired at least five times at point-blank range before being subdued.

The investigations take place in a context of deep political divisions in Slovakia. Fico has been pushing for a hotly contested overhaul of the judiciary to limit the scope of corruption investigations, and has taken steps to reshape the national broadcasting system to purge what the government calls liberal bias.

Senior officials of Fico’s ruling Smer party have, in fact, accused liberal journalists and opposition politicians of motivating the assassination attempt through their intense criticism of the government’s actions. Still, Pellegrini, a Fico ally who was elected last month, has been among the loudest voices calling for calm.

Amid the dearth of information from authorities, speculation about the attacker’s identity and motivations has proliferated, prompting the Home Office to repeatedly warn against the dissemination of “unverified” details.

The ministry said late Thursday that “a large amount of misinformation” was circulating about the attack. On an existing ministry website dedicated to combating hoaxes, it labeled a series of unconfirmed news reports (that the suspect was a member of a Slovak paramilitary group, that his wife was a Ukrainian refugee) as “not true,” but not true. offered nothing. verifiable.

As officials warned that tensions risked boiling over, some in Slovakia expressed concern about whether Fico could still die, but also about what might happen if he recovered.

“Polarization is very present in today’s society and will get worse after this attack,” said Hana Klistincova, 34, a translator interviewed in Bratislava. “Personally, I do not fear that the attack will be repeated, it was the impulsive behavior of an individual, but I fear the impact this will have on society due to the leaders of our coalition, who began to blame the opposition and the right-wing media. after.”

Veronika Kladivikova, a 27-year-old seamstress from Banska Stiavnica, a small town in central Slovakia, said she was horrified by the attack.

“Even families are divided. I feel it in my own family,” she said as she watched his son play in a park sandbox.

But he said he was “not afraid right now,” adding: “I hope people are sensible enough not to panic, or be even more against each other, divided.”

Sara Cincurova contributed reporting from Bratislava.

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