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Slovakia’s prime minister is fighting for his life and undergoing surgery after being shot multiple times.

Robert Fico was airlifted to hospital and a suspect, reported to be 71 years old, was detained at the scene.

The shooting happened on Wednesday afternoon in Handlova, about 85 miles (136km) from the capital Bratislava, after a meeting at a cultural centre.

Follow live: Slovak prime minister in ‘life-threatening condition’

Slovakia‘s interior minister said there was a “clear political motivation” behind the attack, while local TV said Mr Fico was hit in the stomach.

The 59-year-old was taken to a local hospital and then flown to a larger facility in Banska Bystrica.

“The next few hours will decide,” said a post on Mr Fico’s Facebook page.

Pic: Reuters
Security officers move Slovak PM Robert Fico in a car after a shooting incident, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
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Security rushed Mr Fico into a car after the incident. Pic: Reuters

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Slovak PM bundled into car

Pic: Reuters
A person is detained after a shooting incident of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
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The man detained is said to be 71 years old. Pic: Reuters


A man was arrested at the scene. Pic: Reuters
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Pic: Reuters

The prime minister was still in surgery on Wednesday evening, said the country’s defence minister, who described his condition as “extraordinarily serious”.

Interior minister Matus Sutaj-Estok told reporters outside the hospital that the gunman had fired five shots.

Two witnesses told local news outlet Diary N about the moment the shooting happened.

“I was just going to shake his hand,” said one.

“When the shots rang out, I almost became deaf,” said the other, who did not want to give her name.

She said there were three or four shots and that Mr Fico fell to the floor with blood on his chest and head.

Defence minister Robert Kalinak and interior minister spoke to media outside the hospital. Pic: AP
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The defence minister (left) and interior minister gave an update outside hospital. Pic: AP

Other witnesses said the gunman used a friendly nickname to call out to the prime minister as he approached a crowd of supporters.

Slovak media said he was a former security guard and an author of poetry collections.

‘A polarising political bruiser’

By Darren McCaffrey, political correspondent

Robert Fico has been in Slovak politics for decades, even before the country of Slovakia existed.

A towering figure, he is a political bruiser who has been polarising at home and throughout Europe.

His election last year seemed almost unimaginable until recently, after Fico was forced to resign following the murder of a famous journalist and allegations of corruption.

It appeared his political career was over.

However, he bounced back on a campaign to end military support for Ukraine.

He is also resistant to sanctions on Russia, a conservative on social issues and he attacks the EU project.

This populist approach has a large constituency with mainly rural, older, conservative voters helping him to a third term.

But not with everyone, his party did receive the largest number of votes, though it only amounted to 23%.

Slovakia, like many of its neighbours, is deeply divided with younger, more metropolitan voters angry with the nationalistic approach to politics.

They tend to be more pro-EU, in favour of Ukrainian support and liberal.

There is also widespread concern about an authoritarian approach to politics, curbing of media freedoms and opposition parties.

The result is a polarised country with a polarising prime minister who has never shown any sign of wanting reconciliation.

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Who is Robert Fico?

Pic: AP
Rescue workers wheel Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Slovakia...s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)
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Pic: AP


Pic: AP
Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Slovakia...s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting Wednesday afternoon, according to his Facebook profile. (Jan Kroslak/TASR via AP)
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The prime minister was taken to a hospital in the town of Banska. Pic: AP

Robert Fico on the world stage

Robert Fico’s election victory last autumn meant NATO had another leader – alongside Hungary’s Victor Orban – who is sympathetic to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

He has previously opposed EU sanctions on Russia – and has been against Ukraine joining the defence treaty.

He believes the US and other nations should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Mr Fico also repeated Mr Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country need protection.

Critics have also voiced increasing fears Mr Fico would abandon Slovakia’s pro-Western course.

To read more, click here.

World leaders – including Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden – have been quick to condemn the shooting.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called it a “vile attack”, while Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said it was “shocking”.

“News of the cowardly assassination attempt on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico shocks me deeply,” said German leader Olaf Scholz.

“Violence must have no place in European politics.”

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About 5.5 million people live in the central European country

Robert Fico was shot in the town of Handlova

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk posted on X: “Shocking news from Slovakia. Robert, my thoughts are with you in this very difficult moment.”

Mr Fico is a three-time premier in Slovakia and a stalwart of the country’s political scene.

However, he is a divisive figure, with many critical of his more sympathetic stance towards Russian President Vladimir Putin and views on LGBTQ rights.

He won elections in September after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

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President Putin said Mr Fico’s shooting was a “monstrous” crime with “no justification”.

In a Telegram post, he wished him “a speedy and full recovery”, adding: “I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man.

“I very much hope that these qualities will help him to survive this difficult situation.”

US President Joe Biden said his thoughts were “with his (Fico’s) family and the people of Slovakia”.

“We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist,” said a statement.

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President Raisi’s death a perilous moment for Iran regime – but don’t expect a change to foreign policy

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President Raisi's death a perilous moment for Iran regime - but don't expect a change to foreign policy

This is a delicate time for Iran. President Raisi was the second most important man in Iran, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His death, now confirmed, will have far-reaching consequences.

Although Khamenei has tried to reassure the country in recent hours, the regime will know this is a perilous moment that must be handled carefully.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

There are mechanisms to protect the regime in events like this and the Revolutionary Guard, which was founded in 1979 precisely for that purpose, will be a major player in what comes next.

In the immediate term, vice-president Mohammed Mokhber will assume control and elections will be held within 50 days.

Mokhber isn’t as close to the supreme leader as Raisi was, and won’t enjoy his standing, but he has run much of Khamenei’s finances for years and is credited with helping Iran evade some of the many sanctions levied on it.

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Drone footage of helicopter crash site

Raisi’s successor will most likely be the chosen candidate of the supreme leader and certainly another ultra-conservative hardliner – a shift back to the moderates is highly unlikely.

Likewise, we shouldn’t expect any significant change in Iran’s foreign activities or involvement with the war in Gaza. It will be business as usual, as much as possible.

However, after years of anti-government demonstrations following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, this might be a moment for the protest movement to rise up and take to the streets again.

Read more:
Who was hardliner Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi?
‘Butcher of Tehran’ had fearsome reputation – many will fear instability
Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi wins landslide victory

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Islamic State may seek to take advantage

There are also many dissident groups inside Iran, including an off-shoot of Islamic State – they might seek to take advantage of this situation.

Raisi became president in 2021 at the second time of asking and only with a turnout of 41%, the lowest since the 1979 revolution.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
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The president was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

He was not a universally popular figure and many inside Iran will celebrate his death.

Consequences for supreme leader

Longer term, Raisi’s death will have consequences for the supreme leader.

He was considered one of the two frontrunners to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamanei on his death – the other being Khamanei’s son Mojtaba.

For religious and conservative Iranians, Raisi’s death will be mourned; for many though, it will be the passing of a man who had blood on his hands.

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash after charred wreckage found

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has died after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in a mountainous area of northwest Iran.

Rescuers found the burned remains of the aircraft on Monday morning after the president and his foreign minister had been missing for more than 12 hours.

President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Live updates – Iranian president killed in crash

Iran‘s Mehr news agency reported “all passengers of the helicopter carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister were martyred”.

State TV said images showed it had smashed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash… unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” an official told Reuters.

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President of Iran killed in crash

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The crash happened in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province

As the sun rose, rescuers saw the wreckage from around 1.25 miles, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society, Pir Hossein Kolivand, told state media.

Iranian news agency IRNA said the president was flying in an American-made Bell 212 helicopter.

Read more:
Who is Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi?
Many will be fearing instability after ‘butcher of Tehran’ killed

Iranian TV showed the president on board the helicopter
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Iranian TV showed the president on the helicopter during a trip to Azerbaijan

TV picture showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA
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TV pictures from Sunday showed thick fog at the search site. Pic: IRNA

Mr Raisi, 63, who was seen as a frontrunner to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Iran’s supreme leader, was travelling back from Azerbaijan where he had opened a dam with the country’s president.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, also died in the crash.

The governor of East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards were also said to have been on board when the helicopter crashed in fog on Sunday.

Iranian media initially described it as a “hard landing”.

The chief of staff of Iran’s army had ordered all military resources and the Revolutionary Guard to be deployed in the search, which had been hampered by bad weather.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to react to the news of Mr Raisi’s death.

“India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow,” he said in a post on X.

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

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Ebrahim Raisi: Who is hardliner Iranian president?

A helicopter carrying Iran’s president crashed during bad weather on Sunday.

But who is Ebrahim Raisi – a leader who faces sanctions from the US and other nations over his involvement in the mass execution of prisoners in 1988.

The president, 63, who was travelling alongside the foreign minister and two other key Iranian figures when their helicopter crashed, had been travelling across the far northwest of Iran following a visit to Azerbaijan.

Follow live: Rescuers search for president after helicopter crash

Mr Raisi is a hardliner and former head of the judiciary who some have suggested could one day replace Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Because of his part in the sentencing of thousands of prisoners of conscience to death back in the 1980s, he was nicknamed the Butcher of Tehran as he sat on the so-called Death Panel, for which he was then sanctioned by the US.

Raisi and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters
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Raisi and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday. Pic: Reuters

Both a revered and a controversial figure, Mr Raisi supported the country’s security services as they cracked down on all dissent, including in the aftermath of the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini – the woman who died after she was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly – and the nationwide protests that followed.

More on Iran

The months-long security crackdown killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters
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People light a fire during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini in Tehran, 2022. Pic: Reuters

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Ms Amini’s death after her arrest for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities.

The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) when he dies. Pic: Reuters
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The president is seen as a frontrunner to replace Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured). Pic: Reuters

The president also supported Iran’s unprecedented decision in April to launch a drone and missile attack on Israel amid its war with Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza responsible for the 7 October attacks which saw 1,200 people killed in southern Israel.

Involvement in mass executions

Mr Raisi is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under the president, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections.

Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine and has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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He successfully ran for the presidency back in August 2021 in a vote that got the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history as all of his potentially prominent opponents were barred from running under Iran’s vetting system.

A presidency run in 2017 saw him lose to Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who as president reached Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

‘Very involved in anything’

Alistair Bunkall, Sky News’s Middle East correspondent, said the president is “a major figure in Iranian political and religious society” but “he’s not universally popular by any means” as his administration has seen a series of protests in the past few years against his and the government’s “hardline attitude”.

Mr Raisi is nonetheless “considered one of the two frontrunners to potentially take over” the Iranian regime when the current supreme leader dies, Bunkall said.

He added the president would have been “instrumental” in many of Iran’s activities in the region as he “would’ve been very involved in anything particularly what has been happening in Israel and the surrounding areas like Lebanon and Gaza and the Houthis over the last seven and a bit months”.

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