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Argentina’s vice-president survives assassination attempt

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Argentina’s vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, one of Latin America’s best-known politicians, has survived an assassination attempt after a man pointed a loaded gun, which failed to fire, at her head.

“Cristina is still alive because, for some reason, the gun which was loaded with five bullets did not fire, despite the trigger being pulled,” President Alberto Fernández said in an emergency television broadcast on Thursday. “This is something enormously serious. It is the most serious thing which has happened since we recovered our democracy.”

Video footage showed a pistol being pointed from a crowd at the vice-president’s face at close range as she emerged from a car outside her residence in the Buenos Aires suburb of Recoleta.

Fernández de Kirchner, who was not hurt, attempted to duck as bystanders pushed the would-be assassin away. Police have arrested a 35-year-old Brazilian man in connection with the crime, local media reported. They said his social media accounts showed that he had followed extremist groups associated with hate speech, including one denouncing “satanic communism”.

Economy minister Sergio Massa said after the incident: “When hatred and violence prevail over debate, they destroy societies and create situations like today’s: an attempted assassination.”

Mariano Machado, principal Latin America analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said the attempted assassination would further polarise an already deeply divided country and could trigger more protests and violence. The attack reduced the “chances of constructive dialogue within the political class”, he said, pointing out that President Fernández had blamed “the opposition, the judiciary and the media for driving the polarisation that culminated in last night’s events”.

Cristina, as she is universally known in Argentina, is the country’s most recognisable political figure and one of its most divisive. A radical left-winger in the ruling Peronist movement who also heads the Senate, she faces multiple prosecutions for corruption over alleged events during her 2007-15 presidency.

A federal prosecutor in one case demanded a 12-year jail sentence for Fernández de Kirchner and a lifetime ban on her holding public office last week, alleging fraud and an “illicit association” with corrupt officials and business people who received government contracts.

She has described the allegations against her as a politically motivated witch-hunt and called out her supporters on to the streets to defend her. Her dual roles as vice-president and head of the Senate give her strong legal protection and she is unlikely to face imprisonment.

The vice-president has clashed numerous times with Fernández, to whom she is not related, over policy. She opposes his $44bn debt deal agreed this year with the IMF, saying its requirements to cut energy subsidies and reduce the government deficit are unacceptable.

Her charisma and long political record have made her an iconic figure for Latin America’s left, and she is widely expected to run again for national office in elections next year.

After the attempted attack, messages of support poured in from political allies, such as Brazil’s presidential candidate and former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as well as Chile’s president Gabriel Boric.

Fernández declared a national holiday on Friday so that Argentines of all political persuasions could unite in expressing their support for “life, democracy and solidarity with our vice-president”. He called for violence and hatred to be banished from the country’s political and media discourse.

Although economic crisis and political turbulence have buffeted Argentina repeatedly since the end of military rule in 1983, political violence is rare. Political tension has been rising this year as inflation spirals towards 90 per cent a year and the peso plunges in value on the black market.

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