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Slovakian PM Fico remains in 'serious' condition after assassination attempt

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Bratislava, May 16 (IANS/DPA) The condition of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is “still serious” following the assassination attempt a day ago, Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said on Thursday after a special meeting of the Security Council in Bratislava.

Kalinak, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, said that Fico had been hit by four bullets and they had caused serious injuries.

“The doctors have managed to stabilize his condition,” he said, but stressed Fico is not yet out of danger. “We have had a difficult night,” Kalinak said.

Miriam Lapunikova, director of the FD Roosevelt Hospital in Banska Bystrica, said Fico underwent a five-hour emergency operation on Wednesday evening.

Two teams of doctors were involved in the operation, and Fico continues to be under the constant care of a team of doctors, she said.

Fico, 59, was flown to hospital by helicopter after the shooting attack that followed a government meeting in the central town of Handlová.

The suspected shooter, who was arrested at the scene, is a 71-year-old man from the town of Levice, according to Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok. Initial questioning had revealed a “clear political motive,” according to the minister.

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According to media reports, the man had worked for a private security service in the past and therefore had a firearms licence.

The attack occurred as Fico, a left-wing nationalist, went outside to shake hands after a Cabinet meeting held at the House of Culture in Handlová. One of the shots hit him in the abdomen.

The local television station RTV Prievidza published a video of the incident showing a man pushing against the fence and shooting at the prime minister from close range.

Experts in Slovakia criticized the security precautions surrounding Fico’s outing.

“Fico himself spoke a few weeks ago about the danger of someone shooting at politicians,” former Slovakian police chief Stefan Hamran told the Dennik N newspaper on Thursday.

He also criticised the reaction of security staff after the shots were fired. “There was chaos there, that is obvious and that is a failure.”

The former head of the Slovakian personal security unit, Juraj Zabojník, also criticized the prime minister’s bodyguards. “If four or five shots can be fired, someone is to blame,” he told the news channel TA3. He said he had not seen any of the bodyguards stand in front of the head of government.

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Outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová and her successor Peter Pellegrini have invited all political parties for consultations.

“Let’s get out of the vicious circle of hatred and mutual accusations,” Čaputová appealed to the public in a televised speech in Bratislava.

She said the attack on Fico had been an individual act. “But the tense atmosphere of hatred was our collective work.”

During the speech, Caputova and Pellegrini made a joint appearance. “We want to send a signal of understanding in this tense situation,” said Caputova, from the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

Pellegrini, who joined Fico’s coalition, called on the political parties to suspend or at least limit their election campaigns ahead of the European elections in June until the situation has calmed down.

The usual heated political discourse in the country has come to a standstill. A turbulent parliamentary session was cancelled on Wednesday afternoon and adjourned indefinitely.

The liberal opposition parties cancelled all political rallies for the time being. They had originally called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday evening against Fico’s plan to dissolve the public radio and television station RTVS.

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Fico had only recently accused the opposition of fuelling a climate of hostility against his government, saying it could not be ruled out that an act of violence would occur at some point given the level of vitriol.

Fico is the founder and leader of the left-wing party Smer, which has recently become increasingly nationalistic, and has been one of Slovakia’s most popular politicians for almost 30 years.

At the same time, however, he has polarized the small Central European country. Opponents call him “pro-Russian” and accuse him of wanting to lead Slovakia on a similar course as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who promotes what he calls “illiberal democracy.”

–IANS/dpa

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One killed after hand grenade explodes during Japan's SDF training

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Tokyo, May 30 (IANS) A member of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) on Thursday died over a hand grenade explosion during a training session in Yamanashi Prefecture, immediately west of Tokyo, according to local media reports.

The accident took place around 8.45 a.m. local time at the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF)’s training ground Kitafuji Exercise Area, where a 29-year-old male soldier taking part in the training was hit by shrapnel from a hand grenade thrown by another SDF member, reports Xinhua news agency.

The injured was rushed to a hospital unconscious but confirmed dead about two hours later, and the GSDF is investigating the cause of the incident which straddles the municipalities of Fujiyoshida and Yamanakako and connects to another training facility in neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture, national news agency Kyodo reported.

In recent years, the SDF has had frequent reports of training casualties. A shooting incident at a GSDF shooting range in Gifu Prefecture killed an SDF member and injured two others in June last year.

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Two Maritime SDF helicopters in April collided and crashed during a night-time anti-submarine drill, killing one and leaving seven others missing.

–IANS

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Iran rules out sabotage explosion behind Raisi's helicopter crash

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Tehran, May 30 (IANS) Iran has ruled out the possibility of a sabotage explosion leading to the helicopter crash that resulted in the deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his entourage, local media reported.

The General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces released the second report on the causes of the helicopter crash on Wednesday, reports the official news agency IRNA.

The report said given the results of the tests on the helicopter’s wreckage and remaining parts and the way the remains had been scattered at the scene of the incident as well as their distance from the fuselage, the possibility of an explosion caused by an act of sabotage during the flight or moments before the chopper’s crash into the mountain was dismissed.

No sign of an act of electronic warfare was detected on the crashed helicopter, it said, adding that the weather conditions on the way back to Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province, would need further investigations.

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According to the report, the total weight of the passengers and equipment onboard was proportionate to the helicopter’s maximum load limit at the time of takeoff and during the flight.

In addition, during the flight and until 69 seconds before the incident’s occurrence, contact had been maintained with the crashed helicopter’s flight crew on the specified frequencies, which dismisses the possibility of any disruption in the communication system or frequency interference, reports Xinhua news agency.

The first report of the investigation committee of the General Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces was released on May 23.

–IANS

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Child among four injured in London shooting

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London, May 30 (IANS/DPA) Three adults and a child have been injured in a shooting near a restaurant in the London neighbourhood of Hackney.

London’s Metropolitan Police said the child is in a serious condition and that they are awaiting updates on the condition of the adults after the shooting on Kingsland High Street.

The four were taken to an east London hospital with “gunshot injuries.”

Police said they were called to the scene at around 9.20 pm (1820 GMT) on Wednesday with specialist firearms officers attending.

The force said no arrests have yet been made.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward said: “We know Londoners will be shocked by what has taken place tonight.

“Our thoughts go to all those affected.

“Fast-moving inquiries are underway and we will update as soon as we can. If anyone has any information, please contact us.”

–IANS/DPA

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Fourteen Hong Kong activists convicted under national security law

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Shenzhen, China, May 30 (IANS/DPA) Fourteen Hong Kong opposition figures were convicted on Thursday under Beijing’s controversial national security law, the South China Morning Post reported.

Meanwhile, former district councilors Lawrence Lau and Lee Yue-shun were acquitted, becoming the first to do so after trial since the legislation was implemented in June, 2020.

The 16 pro-democracy activists were among 47 people charged with subversion in relation to an unofficial primary election for Hong Kong’s 2020 Legislative Council (LegCo).

The 16, which include former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Helena Wong, had contested the charge while the remaining 31 pleaded guilty before the start of the four-month trial, the Post reported. The charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The landmark case saw the highest number of activists ever charged under the national security law at one time since it was imposed in response to mass pro-democracy protests.

The national security law has made it easier for the Chinese authorities to crack down on activists for behaviour they class as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with a foreign power.

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–IANS/DPA

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Thousands protest in New Zealand as government reveals budget

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Wellington, May 30 (IANS/DPA) Thousands of New Zealanders took to the streets on Thursday in a nationwide protest ahead of the new government’s first budget.

Te Pati Maori (the Maori Party) alongside the Toitu Te Tiriti (Honour the Treaty) called for the protests to demonstrate a unified response to “the Government’s assault” on Maori and New Zealand’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Te Pati Maori called for the establishment of a Maori Parliament after the protests.

“Up and down the country, near 100-thousand people have taken part in activation rallies and we have saturated social media networks. We have mobilised our people in a matter of days in a beautiful harmonious activation against this Government,” it said in a statement.

“Seeing Tangata Tiriti (non-Maori) and Tangata Whenua (Maori) as one, which is the true intent of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is exactly what scares the bejesus out of this government.”

“We now begin the process of establishing our own Parliament. Our people will design what this looks like for us, nobody else.”

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Police Assistant Commissioner Mike Johnson said officers were monitoring multiple gatherings across the country.

“While there has been disruption to travel in some locations, the participants have been well-behaved overall.”

Johnson said in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, hundreds of vehicles had clogged roads.

Groups were converging in Auckland central, on Parliament Grounds in Wellington, and in many other cities and towns.

“Police are in attendance and are focused on maintaining public safety while recognising the right to peaceful protest,” Johnson said.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis revealed her first budget on Thursday afternoon in Wellington.

“This year’s Budget is the clean-up job New Zealand needs after six years of economic mismanagement,” she said.

“We are welcoming in a new era of careful government spending, lower taxes for hard-working New Zealanders and a strong focus on rebuilding the economy.”

The protests were a follow-up of Te Pati Maori’s Day of National Action in December, in response to the policies of the coalition government.

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Since the new government was formed in November, it has overturned some of the anti-tobacco laws introduced by the previous left-wing government, axed the country’s Maori Health Authority and encouraged its ministries to roll back the use of the Maori language.

–IANS/DPA

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