With Few Details About Assassination Attempt, Questions Swirl in Slovakia - The World News

With Few Details About Assassination Attempt, Questions Swirl in Slovakia

Questions were swirling in Slovakia on Friday, as shock over the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Robert Fico began to give way to trepidation over what comes next for the deeply polarized country.

The authorities have kept details about the attack, the assailant and even who is leading the country while the prime minister is hospitalized to a minimum. Officials say they will provide more information soon but that the situation is sensitive.

They have not named the suspect — whom Slovakia’s interior minister described as a “lone wolf” radicalized after last month’s presidential election — nor said when he will appear in court to face a charge of attempted premeditated murder. They have called the shooting politically motivated, while urging the public and politicians to dial down political rhetoric and hatred as investigations play out.

Local media reported on Friday that police officers escorted the suspect to his home in the central Slovak town of Levice, where they searched the premises and seized documents. The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Details of Mr. Fico’s injuries and condition also have been closely guarded. Local news outlets reported that doctors will meet Monday to determine whether the prime minister can be moved to the capital, Bratislava, from the intensive care unit of a hospital in central Slovakia where he underwent surgery.

On Thursday, the deputy prime minister, Robert Kalinak, told a news conference that Mr. Fico’s condition had stabilized but that he was “not out of a life-threatening situation” and faced a “difficult” recovery.

“I have to say that his health state is very serious,” the Slovakia’s president elect, Peter Pellegrini, said after visiting Mr. Fico at the hospital, in Banska Bystrica, Thursday afternoon.

And there has been no formal announcement about who is governing in Mr. Fico’s absence. Local news media quoted ministers saying that Mr. Kalinak had been leading meetings.

The authorities are mounting two investigations — one into the attacker, the other into the response of security forces at the scene — and urged against rushing to judgment.

Slovakian officials have acknowledged that there is criticism over the actions of officers. Local news outlets have published interviews with security experts analyzing the movements of the gunman and officers’ responses to try to understand how the attacker could have fired at least five times at close range before being subdued.

The inquiries are unfolding against a backdrop of deep political divisions in Slovakia. Mr. Fico has been pushing a strongly contested overhaul of the judiciary to limit the scope of corruption investigations, and he has moved to reshape the national broadcasting system to purge what the government calls liberal bias.

Senior officials in Mr. Fico’s governing Smer party have, in effect, accused liberal journalists and opposition politicians of motivating the assassination attempt through their intense criticism of government actions. Still, Mr. Pellegrini, an ally of Mr. Fico’s who was elected last month, has been among the loudest voices calling for calm.

Amid the dearth of information from the authorities, speculation over the attacker’s identity and motivations has been rife, prompting the Interior Ministry to repeatedly warn against spreading “unverified” details.

The ministry said late Thursday that “a large amount of misinformation” was circulating about the attack. On an existing ministry website dedicated to fighting hoaxes, it labeled a number of unconfirmed news reports — that the suspect was a member of a Slovak paramilitary group, that his wife was a Ukrainian refugee — as “not true” but did not offer up anything verifiable.

As officials warned that tensions risked spilling over, some in Slovakia were expressing concerns about whether Mr. Fico might yet die — but also what might happen should he recover.

“The polarization is very present in the society today and will get worse after this attack,” said Hana Klistincova, 34, a translator interviewed in Bratislava. “I personally am not afraid that the attack could repeat itself — it was the impulsive behavior of one individual — but I am afraid of the impact that this will have on society because of our coalition leaders, who started blaming the opposition and the media right after.”

Veronika Kladivikova, a 27-year-old seamstress from Banska Stiavnica, a small town in central Slovakia, said she was horrified by the attack.

“Even families are divided. I feel it in my own family,” she said, as she watched her child play in a sandbox at the park.

But she said that she was “not afraid right now,” adding, “I hope people will be sensible enough not to panic, or be even more against each other, divided.”

Sara Cincurova contributed reporting.

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