Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico fought for his life in hospital Wednesday after being shot multiple times in what the government called a "political assault".

Surgeons spent hours battling to save the 59-year-old populist leader after the attack, which has been condemned around the world.

Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba told the BBC he believed the leader's hospital procedure had gone well.

"I guess in the end he will survive," Taraba said. "He's not in a life-threatening situation at this moment."

 

Earlier, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok told reporters at a hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica that the prime minister was "in critical condition and his life is in danger".

Footage of events just after the shooting showed security agents grabbing a wounded Fico from the ground and hustling him into a black car that speeds away. Other police handcuffed a man on the pavement nearby.

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Police detained a suspect at the site of the attack in Handlova, President Zuzana Caputova told reporters. 

"I am shocked, we are all shocked by the terrible and heinous attack," she added.

Defence minister Robert Kalinak, who also serves as Fico's deputy, would not give information on the suspect but said: "What has happened is a political assault. It's absolutely clear, and we have to react on that." 

- Unprecedented attack -

Fico was shot multiple times, according to a post on his official Facebook page.

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"Today, after the government meeting in Handlova, there was an assassination attempt" on Fico, the government said.

Public RTVS television showed a stretcher taken out of a helicopter by medics and wheeled into the hospital in Banska Bystrica surrounded by security guards. A cover was over the stretcher. 

Fico, whose Smer-SD party won the general election last September, is a four-time prime minister and political veteran accused of swaying his country's foreign policy in favour of the Kremlin.

Media reported that the suspected gunman was a 71-year-old writer, but police have not named any suspects.

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"I have absolutely no idea what father was thinking, what he was planning, why it happened," the alleged suspect's son told Slovak news site aktuality.sk.

Analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP "there has been no (previous) attack on any minister or prime minister in Slovakia." 

"I only remember the case of former minister of economy Jan Ducky who was shot dead in 1999," he added. "But he had not been politically active anymore when he was killed."

- Attack condemned -

Slovak president-elect and Fico ally Peter Pellegrini said he learned of the shooting "with horror". 

"An assassination attempt on one of the highest constitutional officials is an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy," he added on X, formerly Twitter. 

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen denounced the "vile attack" while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he was "shocked and appalled". 

US President Joe Biden said he and the first lady "are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the "appalling" shooting while Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shooting a "heinous crime".

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"I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation," Putin said.

- Ukraine remarks -

As well as his current stint as premier, Fico headed the government in 2006-10 and 2012-18. He is married to lawyer Svetlana Ficova with whom he has a son, Michal, although Slovak media have reported the couple has separated.

Fico was forced to resign in 2018 after an investigative journalist's murder exposed high-level corruption and sparked anti-government sentiment.

But he came back again.

Since returning to office last October, Fico has made a string of remarks that have soured ties between Slovakia and neighbouring Ukraine.

He has questioned Ukraine's sovereignty and called for a compromise with Russia, which invaded in 2022.

After he was elected, Slovakia stopped sending weapons to Ukraine. He pledged during the electoral campaign not to provide Kyiv with "a single bullet". 

He also sparked mass protests with controversial changes, including a media law that critics say will undermine the impartiality of public television and radio.

At a press conference following the shooting, MP Lubos Blaha from Fico's party lashed out against the prime minister's critics.

"You, the liberal media, and progressive politicians are to blame. Robert Fico is fighting for his life because of your hatred," Blaha said.

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