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Argentina’s Vice President Escapes Assassination Attempt

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Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015. | Image by REUTERS

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A man was arrested Thursday after attempting to assassinate Argentina’s influential Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The incident happened when Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s president from 2007-2015 and the nation’s first lady for four years before that, stepped out of her car outside her apartment building.

She began shaking hands with a crowd of supporters when a man came forward with a gun, put it just inches from her face, and pulled the trigger. The weapon apparently jammed as it did not fire.

Fernández de Kirchner’s security detail seized the gunman and took him away, and the 69-year-old vice president wound up unharmed. The gunman was allegedly identified as Fernando André Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old street vendor and Brazilian citizen who has lived in Argentina since 1998.

The gunman had no criminal record, authorities said, and he was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

The apparent assassination attempt shook Argentina, which has a history of political violence and is currently in the midst of another period of political turbulence.

The vice president became embroiled in controversy last week after a prosecutor called for her to serve a 12-year prison sentence and be banned from serving in public office for the rest of her life. Fernández de Kirchner is accused of defrauding the state and fraudulently awarding public works contracts while she was president. 

The vice president has denied all charges, and her supporters have rallied behind the left-of-center politician, gathering on the streets surrounding her home to show support.

The country’s political leaders quickly condemned the apparent assassination attempt. President Alberto Fernández, unrelated to the vice president, held an impromptu late-night national broadcast to inform Argentinians of just how close the vice president came to being killed.

“Cristina remains alive because, for a reason not yet technically confirmed, the gun, which contained five bullets, did not fire,” said the president, who worked as chief-of-staff to both Fernández de Kirchner and her husband during their presidential tenures.

President Fernández declared Friday a national holiday in the wake of what he called “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy” in 1983 after a military dictatorship.

The holiday would allow Argentinians time to “express themselves in defense of life, democracy and in solidarity with our vice president,” said the president.

“We can disagree, we can have deep disagreements, but hate speech cannot take place because it breeds violence, and there is no chance of violence coexisting with democracy,” President Fernández said.

Argentina’s economy minister, Sergio Massa, called the attempted shooting an “attempted assassination.”

“When hate and violence prevail over debate, societies are destroyed, and situations like these arise: attempted assassination,” he said in a tweet.

Former President Mauricio Macri also condemned the attack on Twitter, saying, “This very serious event demands an immediate and profound clarification by the judiciary and security forces.”

“This is a historic event in Argentina that must be a before-and-after,” Buenos Aires Gov. Axel Kicillof said.

Patricia Bullrich, president of the opposition Republican Proposal party, criticized the president’s response, saying he was “playing with fire” because “instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he accuses the opposition and the press, decreeing a national holiday to mobilize activists.”

Fernández’s allies have blamed opposition leaders for the attempted attack and said hateful speech by the controlling party’s political opponents had promoted violence.

Politicians from other countries also condemned the attempted attack.

“We send our solidarity to the vice president in this attempt against her life,” Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro said.

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the attempted attack “was something unfortunate, reprehensible, but at the same time I would say that it was miraculous because Cristina is fine.”

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva called Fernández de Kirchner a “victim of a fascist criminal who doesn’t know how to respect differences and diversity.”

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