Slovak PM Fico makes first public appearance since assassination attempt

FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico addresses the nation for the first time after the shooting, before the EU Parliamentary Election, in Bratislava

(Reuters) -Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico appeared in public on Friday for the first time since a May assassination attempt, railing in a speech against progressive ideologies and backing Hungarian leader Viktor Orban's visit to Moscow.

Fico, who is recovering after being shot four times at close range in mid-May, made his appearance at an evening ceremony marking Saints Cyril and Methodius Day, a public holiday in Slovakia. He spoke standing at a podium at a castle ruins dating back over 11 centuries.

Fico, a four-time leftist prime minister who returned to power after winning an election last September, was shot when he greeted supporters at a government meeting in the central Slovak town of Handlova, leaving him needing hours of surgery. He has been recovering at home since the end of May.

The attack has deepened the polarisation in the central European country of 5.4 million.

Fico's leftist-nationalist government has quickly shifted policy since taking power last year, including changing some criminal laws and cancelling a special prosecutor's office, transforming the public broadcaster, and halting state military aid to Ukraine.

Opposition parties have battled Fico's government over the changes while the European Union has watched for any damage to rule of law or media freedoms.

Fico on Friday hit back against progressive and liberal ideologies he said were "spreading like cancer" and hurting the country.

"I don't want Slovakia to be among the countries that make a caricature of Western civilization," he said.

In a video message posted on Facebook in early June, Fico had called his attacker an opposition activist, but said he felt no hatred toward him and would not seek damages.

His attacker, a man identified by prosecutors as 71-year old Juraj C., was detained and charged with attempted premeditated murder. Prosecutors this week upgraded the case to a terrorist attack.

The detained man has, according to court documents, said he had wanted to hurt the prime minister, but not kill him, because he disagreed with the government's policies.

Fico has faced criticism for views leaning toward Russia while his foreign minister has met his Russian counterpart despite EU officials avoiding high-level meetings with Moscow.

Fico, in his first live speech since the attack, reiterated a call for peace talks in the Ukraine-Russia conflict and said he would have joined Orban on his visit to Moscow if health allowed.

Orban faced outcry from some EU leaders for his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There are not enough, I repeat, not enough peace talks, peace initiatives," Fico said.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet in Prague; editing by Diane Craft and David Gregorio)