BRATISLAVA - Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times and gravely wounded Wednesday, but his deputy prime minister, Tomas Taraba, said he believed Fico would survive.

The prime minister had been greeting supporters at an event when the attempted assassination took place, shocking the small country and reverberating across Europe weeks before an election.

Fico is in stable but serious condition, a hospital official said. Doctors fought for Fico’s life several hours after the leader, 59, was shot in the abdomen multiple times while attending a meeting of his government in the town of 16,000 that was once a center of coal mining.

A suspect was in custody, and an initial investigation found “a clear political motivation” behind the assassination attempt, Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said as he briefed reporters alongside the defense minister.

Fico has long been a divisive figure in Slovakia and after his election victory, thousands repeatedly took to the streets there to rally against his policies. His return to power last year on a pro-Russian, anti-American message led to even greater worries among fellow European Union members that he would lead his country further from the Western mainstream.