A man has been arrested in an alleged assassination attempt after pointing a gun at point-blank range at Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
President Alberto Fernandez said Fernandez de Kirchner only survived because his pistol, loaded with five bullets, did not fire.
The incident, in which Fernandez de Kirchner was unharmed, occurred while greeting supporters outside his home in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta neighborhood at 9pm local time (0100 BST) on Thursday.
“A man put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger,” the president said on national television. “Christina is still alive because for some unconfirmed reason her gun… didn’t fire.”
He called it “the most serious incident since democracy was restored” in 1983 and urged political leaders and society at large to deny it.
Police have arrested a suspect named Fernando Andrés Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old Brazilian man who has lived in Argentina since 1993. Investigators later reportedly found about 100 bullets at his home in Buenos Aires.
Thousands of Fernandez supporters are expected to gather at the city’s Plaza de Mayo on Friday afternoon to show solidarity with the vice president.
The dramatic event was captured by television cameras outside Fernandez de Kirchner’s home. There, her supporters had gathered for days to protest the corruption charges brought against her in court.
Footage shows a man pushing a supporter away, raising a gun at Fernandez de Kirchner’s face and attempting to fire with a pistol, but it appears to misfire. There are also reports that it was aimed but did not fire. The two-time former president can be seen reacting by covering her face and crouching down, reportedly unharmed.
Security Minister Anibal Fernandez told cable news channel C5N that a man had been detained. [the vice-president’s] security officer. They put him aside and they found the weapon and now it needs to be analyzed,” he said.
The minister said the firearm had five bullets and “did not fire when the trigger was pulled”. He declared Friday a national holiday, giving people time to “defend life, democracy, and express themselves in solidarity with the Vice President.”
The level of verbal violence among Argentina’s opposition politicians has risen alarmingly this year, largely due to corruption charges brought in court against Fernandez de Kirchner. Some extreme opposition politicians are calling for the Vice President to reintroduce the death sentence.
After the incident, Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos party statement said, “The incitement to hatred emanating from various spheres of politics, media and judicial power against the former president led to a climate of extreme violence. only,” he said.
Economy Minister Sergio Massa called the incident an “assassination attempt”.
“When hate and violence trump debate, society is destroyed and assassination attempts are created,” he tweeted.
Former president Mauricio Macri called for an immediate investigation into the “very serious” attack, saying “fortunately the vice president was not harmed”.
“They wanted to kill [Fernández de Kirchner]’Argentine Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero tweeted. “This is the most serious act of political violence since the restoration of democracy.”
Fernández de Kirchner is an influential and divisive figure in Argentina, who during his two terms as president from 2007 to 2015 backed close allied construction firms in road contracts in his home state of Santa Cruz. involved in a long-standing accusation.
Prosecutor Diego Luciani last week sentenced Fernandez de Kirchner to 12 years in prison if convicted. This sparked widespread protests across Argentina, including in front of his home in Buenos Aires. She responded that the accusations were politically motivated and that she faced a “judicial and mediating firing squad”.
Fernandez de Kirchner is widely expected to run for Senate and possibly President in next year’s general election.
Reports that the suspect is Brazilian have sent shockwaves across Brazil where there is growing concern that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s radical rhetoric may have sparked some kind of violent incident.
Brazil is just a month away from presidential elections in which Bolsonaro will face his bitter rival, leftist ex-president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula has reportedly taken to wearing a bulletproof vest at rallies out of fear of similar attacks by right-wing extremists.
In 2018, Bolsonaro infamously called on his supporters to “machine gun” his leftist opponents.
Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has condemned the attack on Fernandez de Kirchner, calling him “one of our continent’s greatest leaders” and risking political violence. warned that it was on the rise.
“Political hatred and fascist-type violence fueled by extremist politicians are a threat to Latin American democracies,” Rusev said. murmured.
News of the incident in Buenos Aires sparked outrage both within and outside the region.
Pope Francis called the Vice President from the Vatican in Rome and said in a telegram:
The Pope of Argentina is seen as politically sympathetic to Fernandez de Kirchner, whom he received several times at the Vatican.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Cuba was “appalled” and called the incident an “attempted murder”.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington strongly condemned the assassination attempt. “We stand with the Argentine government and people who reject violence and hatred,” said Blinken.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric Font said the assassination attempt should be condemned across the continent.
“I express my solidarity with her, the government and the people of Argentina.” he tweeted“The path should always be that of ideas and dialogue, not that of weapons and violence.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez echoed the sentiment, expressing support for the Vice President and all Argentines. “Hatred and violence will never triumph over democracy” murmured.