Slovak Fico says he was targeted for Ukrainian views, in first speech since assassination attempt


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s populist prime minister Robert Fico said Wednesday that he believes he is being targeted because he takes a Ukrainian position at odds with the European mainstream, but harbors no malice toward the gunman who seriously wounded him three weeks ago.

The pre-recorded speech that Fico, who opposes military aid to Ukraine, posted online was his first appearance since the assassination attempt and came just days before his country’s European Parliament elections on Saturday.

Fico, who took office last fall after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform, is recovering from multiple wounds after being shot in the abdomen while greeting supporters in the city of Handlova on May 15. The attacker has been arrested but not named by authorities, who initially said he acted alone but later said they were looking for a “third party.”

As he spoke, seemingly in good form, Fico vowed to be back at work in about a month and said he felt “no hatred” toward his attacker and was not planning legal action against him. “I forgive him,” he said during the 14-minute speech.

Still, he denounced the opposition and others, saying: “After all, it is clear that he was only a messenger of evil and political hatred.”

Fico, who is considered a left-wing populist leader, suggested that his views on Russia’s war against Ukraine and other issues that differ sharply from the European mainstream made him a victim. Fico ended his country’s military aid to Ukraine after his coalition government was sworn in on October 25. He also opposes EU sanctions against Russia and wants to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.

“It is cruel to say this, but the right to have a different opinion no longer exists in the European Union,” he said, blaming unnamed Western countries for the alleged situation.

Fico was released from hospital in the central city of Banska Bystrica last week and taken to his home in Bratislava, where he is still recovering.

Video of the attack shows him approaching people gathered at barricades and extending his hand as a man steps forward, extends his arm and fires five bullets before being tackled and arrested. Fico immediately underwent a five-hour operation, followed by another two-hour operation two days later.

The country’s specialized criminal court in the city of Pezinok ordered the suspect, who is accused of attempted murder, to remain behind bars. Prosecutors have told police not to publicly identify the suspect or release details about the case.

Government officials initially said they believed it was a politically motivated attack perpetrated by a “lone wolf,” but later announced that a “third party” may have been involved in “acting on behalf of the perpetrator.”

Fico said Wednesday he had “no reason to believe” it was an attack by a lone, deranged individual.

Fico’s left-wing Smer party (Richting) won Slovakia’s September 30 parliamentary elections and is in a tight race to win the European Parliament elections against the main opposition Progressive Slovakia, a pro-Western liberal party.

His government has made efforts to this end thoroughly overhaul public broadcasting – a move that critics say would give the government complete control over public television and radio.

That, along with his plans to amend the criminal code Eliminating a special anti-graft prosecutor has led opponents to fear he could take Slovakia down a more autocratic path, following Hungary’s lead under populist policies. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Thousands have repeatedly gathered in the capital and across Slovakia to protest Fico’s policies.

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