Slovakia's PM Robert Fico shot outside government meeting

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico has been shot five times after a government meeting in the city of Handlova, in what the country's Interior Ministry called an "assassination" attempt.

"This assassination (attempt) was politically motivated and the perpetrator's decision was born closely after the presidential election," Sutaj Estok said, referring to an April election won by a Fico ally.

The interior minister said Fico was in a "life-threatening" condition, and a spokesperson for a nearby hospital said the 59-year-old was conscious when he was taken there for treatment on Wednesday afternoon, local time.

He was rushed to a hospital in the central Slovak town of Handlova, but a government spokesperson said transporting Fico to the capital, Bratislava, which is about 200 kilometres away, would take too long given his "acute" injuries.

The spokesperson said he was then airlifted to a hospital in the city of Banská Bystrica, which is much closer. The leader has been undergoing surgery there.

Slovakia's Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said the PM's condition was extremely serious, with local media reporting he was shot in the abdomen.

The attack happened about 2:30pm as Fico was leaving a building in the city to meet people in a crowd that had gathered outside.

Local media reports claimed four shots had been fired, with one hitting the PM in the abdomen. The reports said a 71-year-old man had been arrested over the attack.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said authorities suspected the attack was politically motivated.

In a Facebook post shortly after the incident, Slovakia's emergency services said a helicopter had been dispatched to the area.

The country's president Zuzana Čaputová described the attack as "brutal".

Witnesses reported seeing security services detaining a man after the incident.

Fico is Slovakia's longest-serving prime minister and was elected for a fourth term in 2023.

He heads a coalition government that has been divisive.

His policy platform has included abolishing a key anti-corruption office and halting military support to Ukraine.

Fico's government on April 24 approved a controversial proposal to scrap public broadcaster RTVS and replace it with what free-speech advocates fear could be a state mouthpiece disseminating pro-Russian propaganda.

The veteran politician has previously been pro-Europe, but his government's most recent positions put him at odds with the European Union (EU) - which Slovakia joined in 2004 - and United States.

World leaders condemn attack

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described Fico's shooting as a "vile attack".

"Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good. My thoughts are with PM Fico and his family," she said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in a post on X, said the "cowardly" shooting "shocks me deeply".

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also reacted to the assassination attempt, posting on X: "Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family."

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the shooting "monstrous" in correspondence with Slovakia's president, 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."

In a statement released by the White House, US President Joe Biden said: "We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist."

Slovakia's main opposition party cancelled a planned protest against Fico's blueprint for changes to public broadcasting after he was shot.

Original article by ABC News

ABC News - Riley Stuart in London