Suspect in assassination attempt on Slovakian PM to remain behind bars

The suspected gunman has been identified by local media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula
The suspected gunman has been identified by local media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula - Markiza TV/via Reuters

The man accused of attempting to assassinate Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia, was ordered to remain behind bars.

The suspected gunman, identified by Slovak media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula, was placed in pre-trial detention by a special penal court in Pezinok, northeast of the capital Bratislava, on Saturday.

Zuzana Dolinkova, the health minister, said on Saturday the prognosis for Mr Fico was “positive”.

Mr Fico has been in hospital since Wednesday when a lone gunman shot him four times, including in the abdomen.

He underwent a five-hour surgery on Wednesday and another surgery on Friday, both at a hospital in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica.

“Yesterday’s surgery, which took two hours, contributed to a positive prognosis of the prime minister’s health condition,” Ms Dolinkova told reporters.

“The prime minister’s condition is stable, but despite this, it’s still serious,” she added.

Explaining why the suspect was being held behind bars, Katarina Kudjakova, a court spokeswoman, said: “The reason... is concerns about a potential escape or that the criminal activity may continue.”

The decision followed a request from a prosecutor made on Friday. Mr Cintula had been charged with a premeditated murder attempt earlier.

Mr Fico was shot as he was walking to greet supporters after a government meeting in the central mining town of Handlova.

Matus Sutaj Estok, the interior minister, said that if one of the shots “went just a few centimetres higher, it would have hit the prime minister’s liver”.

Robert Kalinak, the defence minister and deputy premier and Mr Fico’s closest political ally, said the prime minister was conscious and his condition allowed him to recover.

“I don’t think he could be taken to Bratislava in the coming days, his condition is still serious,” he told reporters outside the hospital.

Mr Kalinak told the TA3 news channel later on Saturday that Mr Fico had suffered four gunshot wounds - two light, one medium and one serious.

He added doctors had removed all potentially infectious material from his wounds during Friday’s surgery.

“It will take the organism four or five days to start winning over such injuries, but we’re not there yet,” Mr Kalinak said, hailing the good physical shape of the prime minister who is known as a keen runner and body-builder.

Robert Fico
Mr Fico is serving his fourth term as prime minister after campaigning on proposals for peace between Russia and Slovakia's neighbour Ukraine, and for halting military aid to Kyiv - Denes Erdos/AP

The 59-year-old Mr Fico took office in October after his centrist populist Smer party won a general election.

He is serving his fourth term as prime minister after campaigning on proposals for peace between Russia and Slovakia’s neighbour Ukraine, and for halting military aid to Kyiv, which his government later did.

Mr Kalinak said the government would carry on without Mr Fico “according to the programme he has outlined”, including two meetings next week.

The assassination attempt has deeply shocked the EU and Nato member country of 5.4 million people, already sharply divided over politics for years.

Outgoing pro-Western President Zuzana Caputova and her successor Peter Pellegrini, a Fico ally who will take office in June, have called on fellow Slovaks to refrain from “confrontation” after the shooting.

They called a meeting of all parliamentary party leaders for Tuesday in a bid to show unity in the aftermath of the attack.

Mr Kalinak, however, suggested Smer would snub the meeting.

“They invited political party chiefs and our chairman is in the hands of doctors,” he said.

Mr Kalinak added he would call Ms Caputova about the matter, stressing that Slovakia needed “reconciliation and peace”.

But he was among politicians pointing fingers at their opponents for the attack, slamming the opposition and “selected media” on Friday for labelling Mr Fico as a criminal, dictator or a servant of Russian president Vladimir Putin before the assassination attempt.

“All these lies are the main reason why Robert Fico is fighting for his life today,” he said in an emotional message on Smer’s website.