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Gun jams inches from Argentinian vice president’s face in shooting attempt

Argentina detained a man who tried to shoot Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Thursday evening, President Alberto Fernández said, calling the attempted attack the “most serious incident to happen since we recovered democracy.”

Video footage captured a man pointing a firearm at the vice president’s head in Buenos Aires, the capital. The gun was loaded with five bullets and the man pulled the trigger, Fernández said, though the weapon did not fire. Kirchner, 69, is unharmed and being guarded by federal law enforcement. The incident is under investigation.

A 35-year-old Brazilian man, Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel, was taken into custody, according to Argentina’s security minister. In video of the incident shared on social media, a click is heard as the firearm is brandished just inches from the vice president’s face.

“We are facing an event that has an extreme institutional and human seriousness. Our vice president has been attacked,” Fernández said in a midnight national address.

Kirchner, a left-wing populist, was Argentina’s president from 2007 to 2015 and first lady from 2003 to 2007. The incident occurred near her residence, where dozens had gathered to show their support for the vice president, who is facing trial on corruption charges.

“This was an assassination attempt,” Kirchner’s lawyer, Gregorio Dalbón, wrote on Twitter, urging the Argentine justice system to respond swiftly. “Hate and violence end badly.”

“This grave incident demands immediate and profound clarification by the justice system and security forces,” tweeted Mauricio Macri, a right-wing former president, after the attempted shooting.

It is not immediately clear if Sabag Montiel, the man taken into custody, had legal representation.

Argentina’s legislature, which is controlled by allies of Kirchner, plans to create a special committee to investigate the incident.

Kirchner, a divisive figure in Argentina’s political scene, faces up to 12 years in prison for her alleged involvement in a corruption scheme involving public contracts. She has denied involvement and called the trial an instance of “political persecution.”

Axel Kicillof, a Kirchner ally and governor of Buenos Aires province, wrote on Twitter that the attempted attack was “one of the worst episodes in our history.”

“Those who insist on persecuting, inciting violence, and even calling for the death penalty must stop now. You cannot continue to promote hatred and violence,” he wrote.

“All my solidarity to my friend Cristina Kirchner, a victim of a fascist criminal who did not know how to respect differences and diversity,” tweeted Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose term as Brazilian president overlapped with Kirchner’s stint as Argentina’s top leader. “Cristina is a woman who deserves the respect of any democrat in the world. Thank God she escaped unharmed.”

Relations between Brazil and Argentina have chilled during Fernández’s presidency. Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has called Kirchner and Fernández “leftist bandits,” and his son, Eduardo, has echoed calls by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Tex.) to impose sanctions against Kirchner for alleged corruption. Da Silva is running against Bolsonaro in this year’s presidential election.

There is no immediate evidence that the attempted shooting was politically motivated. Fernández, the president, asked the judge investigating the case to ensure the safety of the alleged attacker while in custody.

Argentina is facing one of the world’s most severe inflation crises, with interest rates of around 70 percent. The country has cycled through three economy ministers since July.

A rift on how to deal with the economic crisis has divided Kirchner and the president. Kirchner has championed a universal basic income, while Fernández has appointed economic policymakers who lean toward austerity.

Kirchner’s late husband and presidential predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, helped navigate Argentina out of economic collapse. Together they built an economic movement defined by heavy-handed economic intervention and growth, but her legacy was marred by accusations of graft.

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