The pro-Putin prime minister of Slovakia is recovering in hospital after being shot in an assassination bid that triggered alarm bells across Europe. Robert Fico was beckoned over to meet a crowd of supporters before a gunman leaned across and fired five times at point-blank range, sending the divisive politician sprawling to the ground.

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The pro-Putin prime minister of Slovakia is recovering in hospital after being shot in an assassination bid that triggered alarm bells across Europe. Robert Fico was beckoned over to meet a crowd of supporters before a gunman leaned across and fired five times at point-blank range, sending the divisive politician sprawling to the ground.

The pro-Putin prime minister of Slovakia is recovering in hospital after being shot in an assassination bid that triggered alarm bells across Europe. Robert Fico was beckoned over to meet a crowd of supporters before a gunman leaned across and fired five times at point-blank range, sending the divisive politician sprawling to the ground.

Bodyguards pounced on the would-be assassin as Mr Fico was carried into a government limousine which sped away before he was airlifted to hospital. Overnight there was confusion over the premier's condition, with deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba telling the BBC on Wednesday evening he was confident Mr Fico 'will survive', with local news outlets reporting that he was out of surgery and stable. Other ministers, however, insisted throughout the night that Mr Fico remained in a critical condition.

Bodyguards pounced on the would-be assassin as Mr Fico was carried into a government limousine which sped away before he was airlifted to hospital. Overnight there was confusion over the premier’s condition, with deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba telling the BBC on Wednesday evening he was confident Mr Fico ‘will survive’, with local news outlets reporting that he was out of surgery and stable. Other ministers, however, insisted throughout the night that Mr Fico remained in a critical condition.

Police detained 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula (pictured) on suspicion of the shooting in Handlova, central Slovakia. Vladimir Putin last night described the attack as a 'monstrous crime' and there are fears he will now seize on the attempted killing of his populist friend who has staunchly argued against support for Ukraine.

Police detained 71-year-old poet Juraj Cintula (pictured) on suspicion of the shooting in Handlova, central Slovakia. Vladimir Putin last night described the attack as a ‘monstrous crime’ and there are fears he will now seize on the attempted killing of his populist friend who has staunchly argued against support for Ukraine. 

It comes as: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cancelled trips abroad as Russia advances on the country's second city of Kharkiv ; Tens of thousands took to the streets of Georgia once more after the 'pro-Russian' government forced through 'Kremlin inspired' legislation; The alleged gunman made a 'confession' in custody where he blamed Mr Fico's crackdown on free media for the attack; World leaders including Joe Biden were quick to condemn the shooting.

It comes as: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cancelled trips abroad as Russia advances on the country’s second city of Kharkiv ; Tens of thousands took to the streets of Georgia once more after the ‘pro-Russian’ government forced through ‘Kremlin inspired’ legislation; The alleged gunman made a ‘confession’ in custody where he blamed Mr Fico’s crackdown on free media for the attack; World leaders including Joe Biden were quick to condemn the shooting.

Russian president Mr Putin ¿ who arrived in Beijing for a state visit last night ¿ said: 'I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation.' Last night Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, the UK's chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence unit, told The Mail: 'There are high stakes in Europe and the threat of a wider war only benefits Putin. 'This is yet another wake-up call to the West. If we ignore this latest threat to Western security the chances of getting drawn into a wider war in Europe are manifestly greater.'

Russian president Mr Putin – who arrived in Beijing for a state visit last night – said: ‘I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation.’ Last night Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence unit, told The Mail: ‘There are high stakes in Europe and the threat of a wider war only benefits Putin. ‘This is yet another wake-up call to the West. If we ignore this latest threat to Western security the chances of getting drawn into a wider war in Europe are manifestly greater.’

Witnesses said Mr Fico responded to a supporter shouting 'Robo, come over' and went to shake their hand after leaving an away-day meeting of the Slovak government meeting shortly after 3pm. Harrowing footage then shows the alleged gunman look either side before lunging forward with a pistol in his right arm and shooting the 59-year-old prime minister. A shaken bystander said: 'I was just going to shake his hand, when the shots rang out it almost deafened me'.

Witnesses said Mr Fico responded to a supporter shouting ‘Robo, come over’ and went to shake their hand after leaving an away-day meeting of the Slovak government meeting shortly after 3pm. Harrowing footage then shows the alleged gunman look either side before lunging forward with a pistol in his right arm and shooting the 59-year-old prime minister. A shaken bystander said: ‘I was just going to shake his hand, when the shots rang out it almost deafened me’.

Local journalists interviewed the suspect's son who witnessed the attack and was in shock. 'I have no idea what father was up to, what he was planning and why it happened,' he said. The son said Cintula was not suffering from any mental health problems and had never mentioned assassinating a politician. However, the background of the alleged gunman provoked further questions last night. Photographs appeared to show he was affiliated to a pro-Russian militia Slovenskí Branci. Mr Fico was shot in the arm and stomach and his injuries were so severe there was no time to transfer him to the capital, Bratislava.

Local journalists interviewed the suspect’s son who witnessed the attack and was in shock. ‘I have no idea what father was up to, what he was planning and why it happened,’ he said. The son said Cintula was not suffering from any mental health problems and had never mentioned assassinating a politician. However, the background of the alleged gunman provoked further questions last night. Photographs appeared to show he was affiliated to a pro-Russian militia Slovenskí Branci. Mr Fico was shot in the arm and stomach and his injuries were so severe there was no time to transfer him to the capital, Bratislava.

Slovak interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok confirmed he was conscious after major surgery last night but had suffered 'serious body trauma'. Mr Estok warned police would 'act' on anyone backing the assassination online as he also pledged a huge clampdown on security. Mr Fico rails against immigration and LGBT issues and has been unsparing in his support for Russia in its war against Ukraine. He has reversed the previous Slovakian government's stance on the Ukraine conflict and called for military aid to Kyiv to cease.

Slovak interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok confirmed he was conscious after major surgery last night but had suffered ‘serious body trauma’. Mr Estok warned police would ‘act’ on anyone backing the assassination online as he also pledged a huge clampdown on security. Mr Fico rails against immigration and LGBT issues and has been unsparing in his support for Russia in its war against Ukraine. He has reversed the previous Slovakian government’s stance on the Ukraine conflict and called for military aid to Kyiv to cease.

He has also become a close ally of Hungary's premier Viktor Orban, another refusenik inside Nato and the European Union. Last night, given his opposition to the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, there was speculation online suggesting the shooting could have been ordered by Kyiv. The leader of Slovakia's pro-European and pro-Nato opposition party was forced to issue a public denial that he had anything to do with the assassination attempt. Mr Fico has also provoked fury with his leftist Direction party's plans to give government full control of public radio and TV. The alleged gunman made a 'confession' in custody where he blamed this crackdown for the supposed assassination attempt.

He has also become a close ally of Hungary’s premier Viktor Orban, another refusenik inside Nato and the European Union. Last night, given his opposition to the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, there was speculation online suggesting the shooting could have been ordered by Kyiv. The leader of Slovakia’s pro-European and pro-Nato opposition party was forced to issue a public denial that he had anything to do with the assassination attempt. Mr Fico has also provoked fury with his leftist Direction party’s plans to give government full control of public radio and TV. The alleged gunman made a ‘confession’ in custody where he blamed this crackdown for the supposed assassination attempt.

Russia is expected to seek to politicise the shooting by suggesting politicians in EU and in Nato states who dare to challenge the orthodoxy surrounding support for Ukraine are no longer safe. Former chairman of the Commons defence committee, Tobias Ellwood, said: 'As Slovakia increasingly comes under threat from Russia's influence this tragic incident could easily be used as justification to introduce similar draconian restrictions as we now see in Hungary and Belarus.' Western nations condemned the attack on Mr Fico. US President Joe Biden said it was a 'horrific act of violence'. President Zelensky added: 'We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state's head of government.' Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: 'Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy.'

Russia is expected to seek to politicise the shooting by suggesting politicians in EU and in Nato states who dare to challenge the orthodoxy surrounding support for Ukraine are no longer safe. Former chairman of the Commons defence committee, Tobias Ellwood, said: ‘As Slovakia increasingly comes under threat from Russia’s influence this tragic incident could easily be used as justification to introduce similar draconian restrictions as we now see in Hungary and Belarus.’ Western nations condemned the attack on Mr Fico. US President Joe Biden said it was a ‘horrific act of violence’. President Zelensky added: ‘We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state’s head of government.’ Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: ‘Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy.’

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