Slovakia reels from PM's shooting as suspect goes to court

The suspect charged with the attempted murder of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is expected on Saturday before a penal court that will decide whether to hold him in pre-trial detention.

The man, identified by Slovak media as 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula, fired five shots at Fico on Wednesday and hit him four times.

The shooting occurred as Fico was walking towards his supporters after a government meeting in the central Slovak town of Handlova.

He was taken to hospital by helicopter and underwent five hours of surgery.

Fico, in office since his centrist populist Smer party won a general election last autumn, had another two-hour surgery on Friday.

"The patient is conscious now, his condition is stable, but he is still in intensive care. His condition is really serious," said Miriam Lapunikova, director of the Roosevelt Hospital in the central Slovak city of Banska Bystrica.

A prosecutor proposed on Friday that Cintula be placed in pre-trial detention after he had been charged with a premeditated murder attempt.

The penal court in Pezinok northeast of Bratislava will hear Cintula on Saturday morning.

- 'All these lies' -

Fico is serving his fourth term as prime minister after campaigning on proposals for peace with Russia invading Slovakia's neighbour Ukraine and for halting military aid to Ukraine, which his government later did.

The assassination attempt has deeply shocked the EU and NATO member country of 5.4 million people, already sharply divided over politics for years.

Outgoing pro-Western President Zuzana Caputova and her successor Peter Pellegrini, a Fico ally who will assume office in June, have called on fellow Slovaks to refrain from "confrontation" after the shooting.

They called a meeting of all parliamentary party leaders for Tuesday in a bid to show unity in the aftermath of the attack.

But some politicians have already pointed fingers at their opponents for allegedly causing the attack.

Robert Kalinak, a deputy prime minister and Fico's closest ally, slammed opposition politicians and "selected media" on Friday for labelling Fico as a criminal, dictator or Russian President Vladimir Putin's servant before the attack.

"All these lies are the main reason why Robert Fico is fighting for his life today," he said in an emotional message on Smer's website.

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