Slovak PM Fico eyes return to work after shooting

FILE PHOTO: A picture and its story: The Slovak assassination attempt photo that nearly got away

(Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Wednesday he might return to work later this month and also accused the opposition of showing hatred and aggressiveness towards his party, in his first public comments since a May 15 assassination attempt.

Fico is recovering at home after being shot four times at close range when he greeted supporters at a government meeting in the central Slovak town of Handlova. The attack left him in serious condition in hospital and needing hours of surgery.

In a video message posted on Facebook, Fico called his attacker an opposition activist, saying there was no reason to believe the shooting was the act of a "lone lunatic". He said he felt no hatred toward the attacker and would not seek damages.

"On May 15, a Slovak opposition activist tried to assassinate me in Handlova because of my political views," Fico said in the video, adding medical staff had prevented the worst.

"If everything goes optimally, I could gradually return to work at the turn of June and July."

Dressed in a button-down shirt with rolled sleeves and filmed from the waist up sitting in a black leather office chair, Fico looked in good health.

His attacker, identified by prosecutors as 71-year old Juraj C., was detained on the spot after the attack and charged with attempted premeditated murder.

The incident has highlighted the deep polarisation of politics in the central European country of 5.4 million people.

Opposition parties have led protests against Fico's leftist-nationalist government since it took power last year. Its policy shifts include stopping military aid to Ukraine, dismantling a special prosecutor's office despite rule of law concerns, and revamping the state television and radio broadcaster despite criticism that the move could harm media freedom.


Fico said the opposition's hate and aggressiveness toward his government had peaked after a tight presidential election in April that was won by the ruling coalition's candidate.

He accused the opposition parties which had previously been in government of seeking to eliminate his SMER party by "abusing" the penal code but said they had never faced scrutiny from the European Union.

The opposition continues to enjoy Western support today, Fico said, because his government has differing opinions, especially on the Ukraine war.

Fico said the EU and NATO had only one acceptable opinion, that the Ukraine war "must continue at any cost in order to weaken the Russian Federation".

"Anyone who does not identify with this single mandatory opinion is immediately labelled as a Russian agent, and politically marginalised internationally," Fico said in the video, which was published with English subtitles.

Responding to Fico's comments, Michal Simecka, leader of the largest opposition party, Progressive Slovakia, said he was glad that Fico was recovering well but regretted the prime minister's decision to attack his political foes, the media and the EU.

"Unfortunately nothing has changed in his politics," Simecka said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Gareth Jones)