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Suspected would-be assassin ordered detained as Slovak prime minister's condition is stable

Members of the media film outside the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, is being treated, in Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos) Members of the media film outside the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, is being treated, in Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
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Pezinok, Slovakia -

The man accused of attempting to assassinate Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was ordered to remain behind bars Saturday as the nation’s leader was in serious but stable condition after surviving multiple gunshot wounds, officials said.

Prosecutors sought an order from Slovakia’s Specialized Criminal Court to detain the suspect because of fear that he could escape or carry out other crimes, a court spokesperson said.

Prosecutors told police not to publicly identify the man or release other details about the case, but unconfirmed media reports said he was a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet who may have once worked as a mall security guard in the country’s southwest.

Government authorities gave details that matched that description. They said the suspect didn’t belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

The courthouse in Pezinok, a small town outside the capital, Bratislava, was guarded by police wearing helmets and balaclavas and carrying rifles. News media were not allowed in and reporters were kept behind a gate outside.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico ’s condition was serious but stable Saturday as the man accused of trying to assassinate him faced his first court appearance.

Two hours of surgery Friday to remove dead tissue from Fico's multiple gunshot wounds led to a good prognosis for his recovery but he was still not well enough to travel to a hospital in the capital, Bratislava, government ministers said outside University F. D. Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, where Fico was taken by helicopter after the shooting.

“Several miracles have occurred in Banska Bystrica in recent days coming from the hands of doctors, nurses and the personnel at the Roosevelt Hospital," Defense Minister Robert Kalinak said.

Fico, 59, was attacked as he greeted supporters following a government meeting Wednesday in the former coal mining town of Handlova. The suspect was tackled to the ground and arrested.

The update on Fico’s health was issued as the man accused of attempting to assassinate him made his first court appearance, according to Slovak state media.

Prosecutors were seeking an order from Slovakia’s Specialized Criminal Court to detain the suspect.

Prosecutors told police not to publicly identify the man or release other details about the case, but unconfirmed media reports said he was a 71-year-old retiree known as an amateur poet who may have once worked as a mall security guard in the country’s southwest.

Government authorities gave details that matched that description. They said the suspect didn’t belong to any political groups, though the attack itself was politically motivated.

The courthouse in Pezinok, a small town outside the capital, Bratislava, was guarded by officers wearing balaclavas and carrying rifles. News media were not allowed in and reporters were kept behind a gate outside.

Police on Friday had taken the suspect to his home in the town of Levice and seized a computer and some documents, Markiza, a Slovak television station reported. Police didn’t comment.

With police remaining largely silent about the case, it was not clear how the suspect came to possess a firearm.

Slovakia has strict rules on firearms and gun owners must have a good reason to possess one and are required to pass a test.

As a consequence, Slovakia has one of the lowest gun ownership rates in Europe. It was ranked 23rd out of 27 European Union countries with a gun ownership rate of 6.5 per 100 people, according to the Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the EU.

World leaders have condemned the attack and offered support for Fico and Slovakia.

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and beyond. His return to power last year on a pro-Russia, anti-American platform led to worries among fellow European Union and NATO members that he would abandon his country’s pro-Western course, particularly on Ukraine.

At the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Slovakia was one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, but Fico halted arms deliveries to Ukraine when he returned to power, his fourth time serving as prime minister.

Fico’s government has also made efforts to overhaul public broadcasting — a move critics said would give the government full control of public television and radio. That, coupled with his plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor, have led opponents to worry that Fico will lead Slovakia down a more autocratic path.

Thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly rallied in the capital and around the country of 5.4 million to protest his policies.

Fico said last month on Facebook that he believed rising tensions in the country could lead to the killing of politicians, and he blamed the media for fueling tensions.

Before Fico returned to power last year, many of his political and business associates were the focus of police investigations, and dozens have been charged.

His plan to overhaul the penal system would eliminate the office of the special prosecutor that deals with organized crime, corruption and extremism.

Associated Press reporters Karel Janicek in Vsetin, Czech Republic, and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.

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