'I was trying to take a picture' with Slovak PM when he was shot: witness

Security men help Slovakia's wounded Prime Minister Robert Fico to his car (-)
Security men help Slovakia's wounded Prime Minister Robert Fico to his car (-)

Richard Krajcik was hoping to get a selfie with Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico in the main square of his hometown of Handlova when shots rang out.

Krajcik was just steps away when Fico stretched out his hand to greet a crowd gathered behind a security barrier when a gunman fired a quick succession of shots at the nationalist leader on Wednesday.

Even as Fico crumpled and fell backwards over a park bench, the train conductor thought the gunshots might be firecrackers.

"I only realised that he was shot after the second gunshot.

"Everything happened so fast," Krajcik told AFP, as he gazed at the spot where Fico was shot.

Krajick, 21, like many others in Handlova, is still coming to terms with the assassination attempt that shattered the tranquil life of this small town tucked among the wooded hills of central Slovakia.

"It is so shocking... I never thought something like this could ever happen in Handlova," he said.

Security guards quickly bundled Fico into a nearby car, before he was airlifted to a hospital for an five-hour emergency surgery to save his life.

His condition has since stabilised but remained "very serious", according to government officials.

"Words cannot even describe the way it makes me feel," said Alzbeta Rajcokova, 78, who pushed through the crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of the premier an hour before he was shot.

"When I think about the fact that the shooter might have been among the crowd of people, it makes me feel terrible," Rajcokova told AFP.

The shooting along with a rash of bomb threats at schools has left the 78-year-old at a loss.

"People nowadays... lack humanity, honesty, and gratefulness," Rajcokova told AFP as she shook her head in disbelief.

- Country deeply divided -

For resident Andrea Madajova, Fico was more than just a politician.

Madajova said he helped the community with disaster relief after flooding hit the area hard more than a decade ago.

"Fico visited and helped Handlova often in the past," the 47-year-old told AFP.

"It really got to me," she said of the shooting. "The tension in Handlova is definitely high after yesterday."

Fico, whose party won the general election last September, is a four-time premier and hard-bitten veteran accused of moving his country's foreign policy closer to the Kremlin.

It is in small towns like Handlova that Fico often has his base. His party took more than half the town's votes in elections last year.

For many in Handlova, the attempt on Fico's life has shown up the bitter polarisation that threatens to tear Slovakia apart.

"I think that the hatred should be stopped," said Ingrid Pavlíkova, 43.

"No matter how hated he is by citizens, nobody deserves this."

bur-ds/dt/fg