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The Shooting of Robert Fico in Slovakia: What to Know

Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia was shot five times on Wednesday, in the most serious attack on a European leader in decades. Officials said the act was a politically motivated assassination attempt, stoking fears that Europe’s increasingly polarized and vitriolic politics could tip into violence.

Mr. Fico, a veteran populist politician, underwent hours of emergency surgery after being critically wounded in a town in central Slovakia. Hospital and government officials said Thursday that Mr. Fico’s condition had stabilized overnight but remained serious.

Here is what we know about the shooting.

Videos from the scene indicate that Mr. Fico was shot in Banikov Square, in the center of the town of Handlova, where the prime minister had held a government meeting.

The attacker is seen in the videos standing with other people behind a metal barrier before stepping forward and shooting Mr. Fico from just a few feet away as he came to greet them.

Mr. Fico doubled over at the waist and fell backward onto a bench, and security officers hustled him into a black car. Mr. Fico was airlifted to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, a city near Handlova, according to Slovak officials.

Mr. Fico’s condition stabilized overnight, and doctors were carrying out more procedures in an effort to improve his condition, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak said Thursday morning outside the hospital where the prime minister is being treated.

Miriam Lapunikova, the hospital’s director, said Mr. Fico had undergone five hours of surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. She said that his condition remained “truly very serious” and that he remained in an intensive-care unit.

Slovak news outlets described the gunman, who was arrested, as a 71-year-old poet, but the authorities did not identify the suspect. However, they said that initial evidence showed that the act was “clearly” politically motivated.

“For the first time in the 31 years of our democratic sovereign republic, it happened that someone decided to express a political opinion not in an election, but with a gun on the street,” Matus Sutaj Estok, Slovakia’s interior minister, wrote on Facebook.

Slovakia’s president, Zuzana Caputova, called the assassination attempt an “attack on democracy.”

Mr. Estok said more information about the shooter would be made public “in the coming days.”

In Slovakia, the attempted assassination heightened polarization and added vitriol to an already divided political landscape, with Mr. Fico’s allies accusing opponents of having “blood on their hands.” Lubos Blaha, a representative of Mr. Fico’s party, Smer, said opponents and what he called “the liberal media” had “built a gallows” for the prime minister.

Abroad, the shooting drew condemnations from world leaders, including Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Putin praised Mr. Fico, who has expressed pro-Russian views, and said that “This monstrous crime cannot have any justification.”

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary and Mr. Fico’s ally, said that he was “deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend.”

Condemnations also came from the United States and the European Union. President Biden called the act a “horrific act of violence,” and Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called the attack “vile” on social media.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has faced waning support from Slovakia event though it delivered fighter jets to Ukraine when the war began, also condemned the attack.

Mr. Fico, who has served as prime minister longer than any other Slovak leader, has presented himself as a fighter for the common man, and an enemy of liberal elites. Like Mr. Orban of Hungary, Mr. Fico has opposed immigration from outside Europe and aid to Ukraine.

He began his three-decade political career on the left, but over the years has embraced right-wing political views, and so did his party, Smer.

Mr. Fico previously served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. He was ousted amid street protests in 2018 over the killing of a journalist who was investigating government corruption, but was re-elected last year after a campaign in which he took pro-Russian stances, promised social conservatism, nationalism and generous welfare programs.

His critics have described some of Mr. Fico’s plans as attempts to return Slovakia to repressive Soviet times, and have criticized efforts by his government to overhaul state broadcasting to purge what they see as liberal bias and restrict foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations that it sees as foreign agents.

Reporting was contributed by Andrew Higgins, Lauren Leatherby, Cassandra Vinograd and Matthew Mpoke Bigg.

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