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Published Time: 15.05.2024 - 12:14:19 Modified Time: 15.05.2024 - 12:14:19

"I'm shocked," Caputova said. "I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack." Robert Fico, Slovakia

The office said Fico was being flown to the main hospital in nearby Banska Bystrica for urgent treatment. It said the capital of Bratislava, 150 kilometres away from Handlova, was too far.

Reports on TA3, a Slovak TV station, said Fico was hit in the abdomen. A suspect has been detained, the reports said, as police sealed off the scene.

Lubos Blaha, deputy speaker of Slovakia's parliament, confirmed the incident during a session of the legislature and adjourned it until further notice, the Slovak TASR news agency said.

President Zuzana Caputova condemned the "brutal and ruthless" attack on the prime minister.

"I'm shocked," Caputova said. "I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack."

Officials outside the country, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, also condemned the attack. The shooting comes three weeks ahead of European Parliament elections.

Fico is serving as prime minister for a third time as a result of elections held late last year.

Earlier this month, thousands of Slovaks rallied in the capital to protest a controversial overhaul of the country's public radio and television services, a move that critics say would result in the government taking full control of the media. The coalition government of Fico's left-leaning Smer (Direction) party approved the measure on April 24.

Slovakia's major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, cancelled a protest they had scheduled concerning the government's planned media overhaul.

"We absolutely and strongly condemn violence and today's shooting of Premier Robert Fico" said Progressive Slovakia Leader Michal Simecka. "At the same time we call on all politicians to refrain from any expressions and steps which could contribute to further increasing the tension."

Critics have worried Slovakia under Fico will abandon the country's pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has muzzled the opposition over the past decade.

Earlier in the year, protests were held in more than 30 cities over a plan backed by Fico to amend the country's penal code and eliminate the office of the special prosecutor that deals with major crime and corruption.

With respect to foreign policy, Fico, like Orban, has been seen as being friendly to Moscow and critical of aiding Ukraine with military support as it battles a Russian invasion.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO, of which Slovakia is also a member, also expressed dismay at the shooting.

Fico served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018. He was forced to resign in 2018 following massive protests over the killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and Kuciak's partner, Martina Kusnirova.

The couple were gunned down in their home outside Bratislava. The murders led to the resignations of several politicians and judicial officials on account of their previous links to a corrupt man who was later charged, and acquitted, in connection with the killing of the couple. 

Born to a working-class family, Fico graduated with a law degree in 1986 and joined the then-ruling Communist party in Czechoslovakia.

After the 1989 fall of Communist rule, he worked as a government lawyer and became an MP in 1992, the same year that saw the split of Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Fico has swatted away accusations of graft that have dogged his party during his political career. He was charged with criminal conspiracy in 2022 — charges he denied and that were later dropped.

With files from CBC News and

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