Argentina: VP Cristina Kirchner survives assasination attempt because handgun failed to fire at point-blank range.

    A man has been detained after he aimed a handgun at point-blank range at Argentina’s vice-president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in what the president said was an attempt on her life.

    Fernández de Kirchner survived only because the gun – which was loaded with five bullets – did not fire, president Alberto Fernández said.

    The incident, in which Fernández de Kirchner appeared unharmed, took place as she was greeting supporters outside her home in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta at 9pm on Thursday.

    Polls say Fernández de Kirchner and presidential candidate Alberto Fernández (no relation), could win by as much as 19 percentage points.

    “A man pointed a firearm at her head and pulled the trigger,” the president said in a national broadcast. “Cristina is still alive because, for some reason yet to be confirmed, the gun ... did not fire.”

    He called it “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy” in 1983 and urged political leaders, and society at large, to repudiate the incident.

    The Argentinian newspaper Clarín reported that a 35-year-old Brazilian man had been arrested at the scene.

    The dramatic events were captured by television cameras outside Fernández de Kirchner’s home, where supporters had been gathered for days protesting against corruption charges filed against her at court.

    The footage shows the man pushing through supporters, raising a gun to Fernández de Kirchner’s face and apparently attempting a shot, which seems to misfire. Some reports said the man pointed the gun at Fernández de Kirchner but did not fire. The two-time former president, Argentina’s leading political figure, can be seen reacting, covering her face and hunching down. She was reportedly unharmed.

    Police stand guard after a man pointed a gun at Argentine Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner outside her residence in Buenos Aires
    Police stand guard after a man pointed a gun at Argentine Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner outside her residence in Buenos Aires Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

    Security minister Aníbal Fernández told local cable news channel C5N that a man had been detained. “A person who was identified by those who were close to him who had a gun was detained by [the vice-president’s] security personnel. They set him aside, found the weapon, and now it must be analysed,” he said.

    Fernández said the firearm had five bullets “and didn’t fire even though the trigger was pulled”. He declared Friday a national holiday to allow people time to “express themselves in defence of life, democracy and in solidarity with our vice president”.

    The level of verbal violence has been growing alarmingly among opposition politicians in Argentina this year, mainly centred around corruption charges filed against Fernández de Kirchner in court. Some extreme opposition politicians have called for the death sentence to be reintroduced for the vice-president.

    After the incident, a statement from Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos party said: “The incitement to hatred emanating from different spheres of political, media and judicial power against the former president, only led to a climate of extreme violence.”

    The economy minister, Sergio Massa, called the incident 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.

    The former president Mauricio Macri demanded an immediate investigation into this “extremely serious” attack, “which fortunately caused no harm to the vice-president”.

    “They wanted to kill [Kirchner],” tweeted Argentina’s foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero. “This is the most serious act of political violence since the return of democracy.”

    Fernández de Kirchner, a powerful and divisive figure in Argentina, is embroiled in long-running accusations that she favoured the construction firm of a close ally for road contracts during her two terms as president from 2007-2015 in her home province of Santa Cruz.

    Prosecutor Diego Luciani last week urged a 12-year sentence if convicted, provoking widespread protests across Argentina, including in front of Fernández de Kirchner’s Buenos Aires home. She responded saying that the charges were politically motivated and that she is facing “a judicial-mediatic firing squad”.

    Fernández de Kirchner has been widely expected to run for the Senate and possibly the presidency in next year’s general elections.

    Reports that the alleged culprit was Brazilian sent shock waves through Brazil where fears have been growing that the extremist rhetoric of its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, might inspire some kind of violent incident.

    Brazil is a month away from a presidential election in which Bolsonaro will face off against his bitter rival, the leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula has reportedly taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest at rallies for fear of a similar attack from right-wing extremists.

    Last week, the Guardian saw federal police agents checking dustbins for explosive devices before Lula, who is an ally of Fernández de Kirchner, gave a press conference for the foreign media in São Paulo.

    In 2018 Bolsonaro notoriously called for supporters to “machine gun” their leftist opponents.

    News of the events prompted outrage across the region.

    The Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez said his country was “appalled” and called the incident “attempted murder”.

    “Hate will not prevail,” tweeted Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the United Nations.

    Gleisi Hoffman, the president of Brazil’s Workers’ party, said the attack was “the result of political violence and hate speech”.

    “Thank God she emerged unscathed,” wrote Lula, who blamed the attack on “a criminal fascist”.

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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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