BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A man tried to kill Argentina’s politically powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez outside her home, but the gun failed to fire, the country’s president said.
The man was quickly subdued by her security personnel in the incident Thursday night, officials said.
President Alberto Fernandez, who is not related to the vice president but is herself a former president, said the gun did not fire when the man tried to shoot.
“A man pointed a firearm at her head and pulled the trigger,” the president said on national television after the incident. He said the weapon was loaded with five bullets but “did not fire even though the trigger was pulled.”
The vice president did not appear to be injured and the man was subdued in seconds as he stood among a crowd of her supporters.
Gina DeBay, a witness who was close to the vice president during the incident, told The Associated Press that she heard “the sound of the trigger being pulled.” She said she didn’t realize it was a gun until the man was rushed away by security.
President Fernandez called it “the most serious incident since we restored democracy” in 1983 after a military dictatorship and called on political leaders and society at large to reject the shooting attempt.
The attack came as the vice president faces trial for alleged corruption during her 2007-2015 presidency – allegations she strongly denies and which have prompted supporters to surround her home in the upscale Recoleta district of Argentina’s capital.
Video aired on local TV channels showed Fernandez getting out of her vehicle, surrounded by supporters, when a man was seen reaching out with what appeared to be a gun. The Vice President leans over as those around the apparent shooter look shocked at what is happening.
An unverified video posted on social media shows the gun almost touching Fernandez’s face.
The suspected gunman has been identified as Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel, a Brazilian national, said a security ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. He has no criminal record, the official added. adding that the weapon was a .32-caliber Bersa.
The president declared Friday a holiday “so that the Argentine people can express themselves in peace and harmony in defense of life, democracy and in solidarity with our vice president.”
Supporters of the vice president have been gathering in the streets around her home since last week, when a prosecutor called for a 12-year sentence for Fernandez as well as a lifetime ban from holding public office in the corruption case.
Shortly after the incident, government officials were quick to condemn what they called an assassination attempt.
“When hatred and violence are imposed on the debate of ideas, societies are destroyed and generate situations like the one seen today: attempted murder,” said Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
Cabinet ministers issued a press release saying they “strongly condemn the attempted assassination” of the vice president. “What happened tonight is extremely serious and threatens democracy, institutions and the rule of law.
Former president Mauricio Macri, a conservative who succeeded the center-left Fernandez as president, also condemned the attack. “This very serious event requires an immediate and thorough investigation by the judiciary and security forces,” Macri wrote on Twitter.
Patricia Bullrich, president of the opposition Republican Proposal party, criticized President Fernández’s response to the attack, accusing him of “playing with fire.” She said that “instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he blames the opposition and the press, declaring a national holiday to mobilize activists”.
Tensions have been rising in the Recoleta neighborhood since the weekend, when supporters of the vice president clashed with police in the streets around her apartment amid efforts by law enforcement officials to clear the area. After the clashes, the heavy police presence around the vice president’s apartment was reduced.
When Fernandez leaves her apartment each day around noon, she greets supporters and signs autographs before getting into her vehicle to drive to the Senate. She repeats the same routine every night.
After the incident, the vice president’s allies were quick to point the finger at the opposition for what they say is hate speech that incites violence. In recent days, several key officials have said that opposition leaders are seeking a fatality.
“This is a historic event in Argentina that must be seen before and after,” said Buenos Aires Governor Axel Kitchiloff.
Regional leaders also condemned the attack.
“We send our solidarity with the vice president in this attempt on her life,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Twitter.
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is a candidate in that nation’s presidential election next month, also expressed solidarity with Fernandez, calling her “a victim of a fascist criminal who does not know how to respect differences and diversity.”
Associated Press writer Daniel Politi in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.
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