Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and taken to a hospital. He is said to be in a life-threatening condition. The suspected attacker was arrested.

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after a cabinet meeting in the town of Handlova. He was taken to a hospital, the Slovak news agency Tasr reported on Wednesday, citing the deputy leader of Fico’s Smer party, Lubos Blaha.

On Wednesday evening it was said that Fico had been undergoing surgery for hours. Defense Secretary Robert Kalinak said his condition was “extremely serious.” Fico suffered “severe trauma”. “The situation is bad,” Kalinak explained.

According to the government’s assessment, the assassination attempt on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico had a “political motive”. Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said this to journalists on Wednesday evening at the clinic in Banska Bystrica where Fico was operated on. The 59-year-old’s condition remains life-threatening.

Eyewitnesses told the TV news channel TA3 that at least four shots were heard in front of the House of Culture in Handlova when Fico went outside after the cabinet meeting to mingle with the population and shake hands. The local television RTV Prievidza published a video of the crime: You can see a man pushing himself against the fence and shooting at the Prime Minister from close range, who then collapses. Another video shows Fico being dragged by companions to a company limousine to bring him to safety.

The attacker was reportedly arrested. According to media reports, it is said to be a 71-year-old man. The information was initially not officially confirmed. A reporter from public television RTVS, who was able to see the perpetrator up close after the arrest, said that the man appeared disoriented and had blood on his forehead. But that was probably because the police officers overpowered him and pushed him to the ground. The exact background was initially unclear.

“Just before I was about to shake his hand, I heard four shots. Robert fell on the ground,” a man said on the square in front of the House of Culture in Handlova on public broadcaster RTVS on Wednesday. A cabinet meeting had previously taken place there. He is in shock. “This is something terrible, these were shots from behind,” he added. A woman told the station about the shooter: “The man was standing there from the start. (…) He just waited.”

The emergency service told Tasr that a helicopter with an emergency doctor was sent to Fico after the incident. The rescue service initially did not comment on Fico’s state of health because the operation was still ongoing. According to the Slovakian newspaper Novy Cas, Fico is said to have suffered two to three wounds in the abdomen and chest. As the Reuters news agency reports, citing the Slovakian government, Fico is said to be in a “life-threatening condition”.

The police evacuated the cultural center where the government meeting was held. A few days ago, Fico accused the liberal opposition of creating a climate of hostility against the government. It cannot be ruled out that an act of violence will occur at some point in such a climate.

President Zuzana Caputova spoke of a brutal attack. “I’m shocked,” she said, wishing Fico a speedier recovery. Blaha said the parliamentary session had been adjourned until further notice.

On X, Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke of a “cowardly attack.” “Violence must have no place in European politics. “In these hours my thoughts are with Robert Fico, the relatives and the citizens of Slovakia,” Scholz continued.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also commented on X. She wrote: “I strongly condemn the despicable attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico. Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most valuable common good. My thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family.” EU Council President Charles Michel said he was shocked by the attack. Violence and such attacks cannot be justified by anything, he wrote on X.

Parliament in Bratislava held a heated debate on Wednesday over one of the most controversial plans of Fico’s government, consisting of two social democratic and a right-wing populist national party SNS.

Culture Minister Martina Simkovicova, proposed by the SNS, wants to dissolve the public broadcaster RTVS and replace it with a new institution. She has the approval of her coalition partners, who have repeatedly accused RTVS of being partial. The opposition parties, on the other hand, accuse the government of wanting to replace the radio and television RTVS, which polls show is trustworthy, with a propaganda station. However, it was initially unclear whether there was a connection to the attack and the debate.