Argentinian authorities investigate man who tried to kill vice president

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Authorities are investigating whether a Brazilian citizen who appears to have tried to assassinate Argentina’s politically powerful vice president Cristina Fernandez was a lone gunman or part of a larger organisation.

Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel is a 35-year-old street vendor who has lived in Argentina since 1998, a Security Ministry official told The Associated Press.

“There is no confirmed hypothesis,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to talk on the record.

“Everything is being investigated.”

Montiel does not have a criminal record.

A police investigators stand at the scene where a man pointed a gun at Argentina's vice Poresident Cristina Fernandez
A police investigators stand at the scene where a man pointed a gun at Argentina’s vice Poresident Cristina Fernandez (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Earlier, officials said the alleged gunman used a .32-caliber Bersa to try to kill Ms Fernandez.

The only reason the assassination attempt failed was because the handgun misfired, President Alberto Fernandez, who is not related to the vice president, said on Thursday night in a national broadcast in which he declared a national holiday on Friday in light of the incident.

“A man pointed a firearm at her head and pulled the trigger,” the President said, adding the firearm was loaded with five bullets but “didn’t fire even though the trigger was pulled”.

The man was quickly overpowered by the vice president’s security officers in the incident on Thursday night, officials said.

The vice president did not appear to have suffered any injury.

Pope Francis, who is Argentinian, expressed his solidarity with the vice president.

A couple who witnessed the apparent attempted assassination comfort each other
A couple who witnessed the apparent attempted assassination comfort each other (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Gina De Bai, a witness who was near the vice president during the incident, told The Associated Press she heard “the sound of the trigger being pulled”.

She said she did not realise it was a handgun until the man was rushed by security personnel.

President Fernandez called it “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy” in 1983 after a military dictatorship and urged political leaders, and society at large, to repudiate the attempted shooting.

Schools were closed on Friday and many businesses appeared to adhere to the President’s call for a holiday as the streets of Buenos Aires were eerily quiet for a weekday morning.

The attack came as the vice president is facing a trial for alleged acts of corruption during her presidency — charges she vehemently denies and that have led her supporters to surround her home in the upscale Recoleta neighbourhood of Argentina’s capital.

Video broadcast on local television channels showed Ms Fernandez exiting her vehicle surrounded by supporters when a man is seen extending his hand with what looks like a pistol.

The vice president ducks as people around the apparent gunman appear shocked at what is happening.

Police guard the scene and keep people away from the area
Police guard the scene and keep people away from the area (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Supporters of the vice president have been gathering in the streets surrounding her home since last week, when a prosecutor called for a 12-year sentence for Ms Fernandez as well as a life-long ban on holding public office in the corruption case.

Shortly after the incident, government officials were quick to decry what they called an assassination attempt.

“When hate and violence are imposed over the debate of ideas, societies are destroyed and generate situations like the one seen today: an assassination attempt,” economy minister Sergio Massa said.

Cabinet ministers issued a news release saying they “energetically condemn the attempted homicide” of the vice president.

“What happened tonight is of extreme gravity and threatens democracy, institutions and the rule of law.”

Former president Mauricio Macri, a conservative who succeeded the left-of-centre Ms Fernandez in the presidency, also condemned the attack.

“This very serious event demands an immediate and profound clarification by the judiciary and security forces,” Mr Macri wrote on Twitter.

A police investigator works in a van at the scene
A police investigator works in a van at the scene (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

She said that “instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he accuses the opposition and the press, decreeing a national holiday to mobilise activists”.

Tensions have been running high in the Recoleta neighbourhood since the weekend, when the vice president’s supporters clashed with police in the streets surrounding her apartment amid an effort by officers to clear the area.

Following the clashes, what had been a strong police presence around the vice president’s apartment was reduced.

When Ms Fernandez leaves her apartment every day at around noon, she greets supporters and signs autographs before getting in her vehicle to go to the Senate.

She repeats the same routine each evening.

Following the incident, allies of the vice president quickly pointed the finger at the opposition for what they said is hateful speech that promotes violence.

Regional leaders condemned the attack.

“We send our solidarity to the vice president in this attempt against 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 Ms Fernandez, calling her a “victim of a fascist criminal who doesn’t know how to respect differences and diversity”.

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