Messages of shock and solidarity poured in from around the world Friday after a man tried to shoot Argentine Vice President Cristina Kirchner in an attack captured on video.
Political and labor unions at home called for mass demonstrations countrywide to denounce Thursday’s assault against Kircher, who survived because the handgun aimed at her face from very close range failed to go off.
The Pope, Latin American leaders and the UN Rights office in Geneva sent messages of support as police investigated whether the suspect, a Brazilian man, had acted alone.
The man in custody was identified as 35-year-old Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel. Footage of the incident showed a man pointing a handgun at Kirchner, 69, who was the country’s leader from 2007 to 2015 and is now facing corruption charges.
The incident took place outside Kirchner’s home in Buenos Aires’ upscale Recoleta neighborhood. The scene of the crime was cordoned off by police Friday, with a handful of Kirchner backers gathered nearby.
“I saw this arm come up over my shoulder behind me with a gun, and with people around me, he was subdued,” one supporter, who did not give his name, told AFP.
Another, who would only give her first name, Teresa, said: “We were waiting for our beloved Cristina. And she just came down to greet everyone, like every night, to greet the people. And all of a sudden, there was a commotion, and it was that guy who pointed (a gun) at her.
“Right next to him they grabbed him, they ran him through here and I have his face fixed in my memory.”
President Alberto Fernandez announced to the nation that “Cristina remains alive, because for a reason that has not yet been technically confirmed, the gun which contained five bullets did not fire despite the trigger having been pulled.”
He said this was the “most serious event that has happened since we restored democracy” in 1983. The president declared Friday a public holiday.
“We have just experienced one of the worst episodes in our history with the attempted assassination of Cristina Kirchner,” tweeted Axel Kicillof, governor of Buenos Aires province.
Pope Francis, himself a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, sent Kirchner a telegram expressing “solidarity” while praying that “social harmony and respect for democratic values will always prevail,” according to the Vatican.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed an “unequivocal condemnation of this assassination attempt” and support for Kirchner and the Argentine people.
“Hatred and violence will never defeat democracy,” he tweeted.
Latin American politicians also voiced support, with messages received from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Chile’s President Gabriel Boric and Bolivian President Luis Arce, among others.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president now locked in a fierce election battle, also slammed Kirchner’s attacker as “a fascist criminal who does not know how to respect differences and diversity.”
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the UN Human Rights Office was “shocked” by the incident. “We will be closely following the situation,” Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.
Within the country, the opposition grouping Together for Change condemned the attempted attack and called for a full investigation.
“My absolute repudiation of the attack suffered by Cristina Kirchner, who fortunately was not injured,” tweeted opposition leader Mauricio Macri, who was president after Kirchner.
“This very serious act requires an immediate and deep investigation by prosecutors and security forces.” The ruling coalition Front of All (center-left Peronism) called for a march to Buenos Aires’s central Plaza de Mayo “to defend democracy.”
Kirchner, a lawyer by training who succeeded her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, as president, stands accused of fraudulently awarding public works contracts in her political stronghold of Patagonia.
Government prosecutors have accused her of defrauding the state out of an estimated $1 billion and are seeking a prison sentence of 12 years and a lifetime ban from politics.
Hundreds of activists have gathered in recent days in front of her home to protest the claims. “Nothing, absolutely nothing that they have said was proven,” Kirchner said last week.
The verdict in her case is expected at the end of the year. She is president of the country’s Senate and enjoys parliamentary immunity, granting her some legal protection.
Even if convicted she would not go to prison unless her sentence was ratified by the country’s Supreme Court, or if she loses her Senate seat at the next elections at the end of 2023.