Europe on edge, global leaders condemn shooting of Slovak PM

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 16th May 2024.

Reactions poured in from across the globe from shocked gobal leaders condemning the shooting attack on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and wishing for his speedy recovery, as he continues to undergo treatment with his condition being termed “extremely serious”. Fico, four-time Prime Minister of Slovakia, was wounded in a shooting incident on Wednesday in Handlova, reported the local newspaper, The Slovak Spectator. The critically-wounded prime minister is still undergoing surgery in the town of Banska Bystrica. The alleged shooter was arrested on-site and the area was evacuated.

According to the latest information released by Slovak television TA3, Prime Minister Fico is in a medically-induced coma after the four-hour operation he underwent after the attack. TA3 reported that five shots were fired in the central Slovakian town, at least one hitting Fico in the stomach. But according to the same sources, the shots did not damage the main arteries. Video footage from the scene showed Fico’s bodyguards dragging him into his car and police officers pinning down an apparent suspect.

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela said on social media: “Sending my thoughts and prayers to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico following the tragic shooting incident in Handlova. Wishing him a speedy recovery and strength during this difficult time.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the “vile attack” and said there is no place for such acts of violence in the society. “I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico. 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 stated.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed her “deep shock” at the “cowardly attack”. “I learned with deep shock the news of the cowardly attack on Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico. All my thoughts are with him, his family and the friendly Slovak people. Also on behalf of the Italian Government I wish to express the strongest condemnation of any form of violence and attack on the cardinal principles of democracy and freedom,” she stated on X.

French President Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned the attack and expressed solidarity. “Shocked by the shots that hit Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. I strongly condemn this attack. My thoughts and solidarity go out to him, his family and the Slovak people,” Macron said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz termed this a “cowardly attack” and said there should be no existence of violence in European politics. “I am deeply shocked by the news of the cowardly attack on Slovakian Prime Minister Fico. Violence must not be existant in European politics. In these hours, my thoughts are with Robert Fico, his family and the citizens of Slovakia,” Scholz stated.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said nothing can justify violence adding that the whole of Spain stands with the Slovak PM. “Horrified and outraged at the attack on the Slovak Prime Minister. Spain stands with Robert Fico, his family and the Slovak people at this extremely difficult time. Nothing can ever justify violence,” Sanchez said on X.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken both wished for PM Fico’s speedy recovery. “I am alarmed to hear reports of an attack on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia. We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist,” President Biden said in a statement. “The United States condemns the shooting of Slovak Prime Minister Fico. Our thoughts are with him, his family, and the Slovak people, and we wish him a full recovery,” Blinken posted on X.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he was “shocked” to hear about the incident. In a post on social media platform X, Sunak wrote, “Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the shooting, terming it a “monstrous crime”. “There can be no justification for this monstrous crime. 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,” Putin said. The Russian leader wished Fico “a speedy and full recovery”. Notably, Fico was considered a supporter of the Kremlin. He had previously blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Vladimir Putin into launching the invasion, according to CNN.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also condemned the act of violence against Slovakia’s head of government. “The attack on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is appalling. We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state’s head of government,” Zelenskyy wrote on X.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “strongly condemned” the attack and conveyed his best wishes. “I strongly condemn the heinous assassination attempt against Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, and I wish a speedy recovery to Mr Fico, who was injured in the attack. I convey my best wishes to the people and government of Slovakia on behalf of my country and nation,” Erdogan said on X.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also wished for PM Fico’s speedy recovery. “Shocked and appalled by the shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico. I wish him strength for a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with Robert Fico, his loved ones, and the people of Slovakia,” Stoltenberg said on X.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wished for Fico’s quick recovery. “I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico. We pray for his health and quick recovery! God bless him and his country.”

Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin said, “We are really worried about what is happening; now it seems that there is no longer any limit.” Speaking on the sidelines of an event at the Italian embassy at the Holy See, Parolin aid, “Relations are increasingly violent and there is less hope of building peaceful and peaceful relations.”

Meanwhile, Slovak Defence Minister, Robert Kalinak said that PM Fico is “still fighting for his life”, as   reported by CNN. “The surgery has been going on for three-and-a-half hours. His medical state is really very complex,” Kalinak added. “We are singularly focused on the health of Robert Fico. And we are hoping he will be strong enough to pull through.”

Slovak Interior Minister, Matus Sutaj Estok said that the assassination attempt of PM Fico was “politically motivated,” adding the information is based on “initial interviews with the suspect”. Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova said in a news conference that the attack on Slovak Prime Minister was “also an attack on democracy”. Maria Kolikova, an opposition member of Slovakia’s parliament said the assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico was “an attack on the internal security” of the country.

Al Jazeera reported, citing local Slovak news media, that the shooter – an unnamed 71-year-old man – was a former security guard at a shopping mall, an author of three collections of poetry, and a member of the Slovak Society of Writers. The attacker’s son said his father was the legal holder of a gun licence. “I have absolutely no idea what my father intended, what he planned, what happened,” news outlet quoted the shooter’s son as saying.

Fico previously served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. His third term in 2023 made him the longest-serving head of government in the history of Slovakia, a European Union and NATO member.

Putin in China seeking support for Ukraine war effort

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Beijing in the early hours of this morning for two days of meetings with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Putin’s second trip to China in six months will focus on military and financial assistance. Increasingly isolated internationally more than two years after launching a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Putin is looking for military and financial support from his Chinese counterpart to sustain his effort in the face of growing global sanctions and a war that his troops have been unable to win despite advantages in arms and numbers. Putin was welcomed by Chinese officials as well as a military guard of honour when he touched down. Beijing has benefitted from supporting Moscow by receiving cheap gas and oil. Still, China has increasingly come under pressure from Western nations with its banks facing the threat of US sanctions that could interrupt Chinese access to international financial markets.

Right-wing parties to form Netherlands government

Far-right Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders on Wednesday announced that he and the leaders of three right-wing parties have finally come to agreement over the formation of a coalition government. Speaking in The Hague, Wilders, who will not serve as prime minister, said, “We have a negotiators’ agreement and we will return to the position of prime minister at a later moment.” It is widely thought that such a candidate will be a technocrat from outside the political system. Wilders had long desired the job but was seen as too risky to be a national leader, hence he has put his career ambitions to the side in exchange for advancing his agenda.

US to send additional $2 billion in Ukraine aid – Blinken

The United States will provide an additional $2 billion in aid to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday during a press conference in Kyiv with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The foreign military financing will be used not only for purchasing weapons from the US, but also by Ukraine as it invests in manufacturing its own machinery and weapons, Blinken said.

Biden says open to 2 presidential debates against Trump

Following repeated challenges from Donald Trump in recent weeks, US President Joe Biden made his most direct comments yet on the prospect of holding televised presidential debates during the election campaign this year. “Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020, and since then he hasn’t shown up for a debate,” Biden said in a short video posted online. “Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal. I’ll even do it twice.” The president also made a veiled reference to Trump’s legal problems and the mid-week breaks from his various court appointments. “So let’s pick the dates, Donald. I hear you’re free Wednesdays,” Biden said. The second part of Biden’s post incorporated an appeal for campaign donations and said the debate would pit “me and this grassroots team versus Donald Trump and his MAGA minions”. “It will be democracy versus authoritarianism. Revenge and retribution versus a vision for our future,” Biden wrote. 

Haniyeh says plans for Gaza that exclude Hamas will be rejected

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh says that any post-war plan for Gaza that excludes Hamas will be rejected, according to The Times of Israel. “Hamas existed to stay,” he says in a televised speech. “The movement [Hamas] will decide, along with all national factions, the administration of the Gaza Strip after the war.” Haniyeh also blames Israel for the current deadlock in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage release deal, saying that by demanding the group amend its proposal, it has led the talks into a stalemate. Earlier this month, Hamas claimed to have accepted a truce agreement with Israel, though it later emerged that the proposal it said had come from Egyptian and Qatari mediators included several elements fundamentally different from what Israel had agreed to. Jerusalem swiftly rejected the proposal for falling short of its “vital demands” but okayed dispatching a working-level delegation to the indirect talks in Cairo. Days later, however, Hamas said talks had ended after Israel “rejected the proposal submitted by the mediators and raised objections to it.” The group said it had decided to stick to the terms of the proposal it had agreed to, rejecting the possibility of making any concessions. Haniyeh reiterates the group’s demand that a ceasefire agreement should end the war in the Gaza Strip, which Israel has said it will not agree to until it achieves its goals, which include destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities.

Israel must not evade question of post-war Gaza rule – Gallant

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called on his government on Wednesday to make a decision about post-war governance in the Gaza Strip, saying he would not support open-ended Israeli military rule over the Palestinian territory. Reuters quotes Gallant saying in a televised news conference, that since soon after the conflict began in October, he had promoted a plan for a new Palestinian administration not linked to Hamas but “got no response” from various Israeli cabinet fora.

Qatar eyes more long-term gas supply deals this year

Qatar expects to sign more long-term natural gas supply deals this year to meet growing international demand, Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi said on Wednesday. The minister, who is also chief executive of QatarEnergy, said the state-owned giant had secured sales of 25 million tonnes of liquified natural gas (LNG) in the past year and expected to be “signing more this year.” “It’s just agreeing on terms and conditions and pricing… but I think there’s a huge demand out there, whether it’s from Asia or Europe,” Kaabi told the Qatar Economic Forum. “I think even Europe is realising now they have to do something different to secure long term,” he added. Qatar is one of the world’s top LNG producers alongside the United States, Australia and Russia.

UK court system ‘crooked’, says WikiLeaks editor

The editor of WikiLeaks denounced the British judicial system as crooked on Wednesday, days before a crucial court hearing which could end the legal battle by the organisation’s founder Julian Assange to stop extradition to the United States. Assange, 52, is wanted by US prosecutors on 18 charges, all bar one under the Espionage Act, over WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of confidential US military records and secret diplomatic cables. At a hearing on Monday, judges at London’s High Court could agree to rubber stamp his extradition, give him permission for a full appeal or even set him free, his wife Stella Assange said. “Julian is just one decision away from being extradited,” she told reporters. “If the judges find against him on Monday, then there will be no further avenues for appeal in the UK.”

Excess salt intake blamed for 10,000 deaths across Europe every day

The World Health Organisation has found 52 of the 53 countries in its European region are consuming too much salt. It recommends adults eat no more than 5g of salt per day, which is equal to around one teaspoon. This is the equivalent amount to what is found in 17 packets of crisps. But figures show Britons are typically consuming 8.4g per day, which is 39th highest among the countries studied and more than food-loving France. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan consume the most at 17.2g per day and Malta the least at 4.92g. Eating too much salt is the main cause of raised blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Health officials say processed food and street food, such as that purchased from supermarkets, takeaways and trendy market sellers are often the main ‘culprits’.

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