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Slovak premier Robert Fico critically injured in assassination attempt

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was critically injured on Wednesday in a shooting that the government called an assassination attempt and several politicians linked to the country’s stark polarisation.

Fico’s office said he was in a “life-threatening condition” after being shot multiple times as he greeted people in the town of Handlová, about 190km from the central European country’s capital, Bratislava.

The government said the 59-year-old populist, pro-Russian leader was transferred by helicopter to a hospital in the nearby city of Banská Bystrica, rather than Bratislava, because of the need for “acute intervention”.

Fico underwent surgery on Wednesday evening, according to defence minister Robert Kaliňák, a close ally of the prime minister.

He added Fico’s situation was “very complicated”, but that “we believe he will be strong enough to handle this trauma”. 

Deputy prime minister Tomáš Taraba later told the BBC he thought Fico’s hospital operation “went well”, adding: “I guess in the end he will survive.”

A man with a gun licence was detained as a suspect over the shooting, local media reported.

The attacker had a “clear political motivation”, said interior minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok, who added the assailant decided to act after Peter Pellegrini, a Fico coalition government ally, won the country’s presidential election in April.

Locator map of Handlova in Slovakia

Some politicians from Fico’s coalition were quick to claim the opposition had provoked the attack.

Taraba said “the entire hateful opposition has bloody fingers”.

Other politicians linked the shooting with acute political divisions affecting Slovakia, an EU member state.

In a televised address to the nation, outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová called for a halt to vitriolic language against politicians.

“The hateful rhetoric we witness leads to hateful acts,” she said. “A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but also on democracy.”

Čaputová said she was shocked by the “brutal and reckless” attack and wished Fico “a lot of strength at this critical moment to recover”.

Death threats against politicians are frequent in Slovakia, said Milan Nič, analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations and former adviser to Slovakia’s foreign ministry.

“It is not an isolated incident. This is one of the most polarised countries in Europe . . . with regular threats against the lives of politicians,” he added.

Robert Fico
Robert Fico, speaking in Handlová on Wednesday, was transferred to hospital by helicopter © Radovan Stoklasa/TASR/AP

Fico, founder of the populist Smer party, began his fourth term in office last October leading a three-way Eurosceptic coalition.

The coalition has been deeply at odds with liberal and pro-EU groups as it calls for tough anti-migrant measures and an end to sanctions against Russia imposed after its invasion of Ukraine.

Fico’s return to power sparked mass protests this year that echoed large-scale demonstrations in 2018 over the fatal shooting of a 27-year-old journalist who had been investigating alleged links between Smer and organised crime. Fico stepped down from his previous term amid those protests.

Michal Šimečka, leader of the country’s liberal opposition, said on social media site X: “We absolutely and strongly condemn the violence and . . . shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico. We believe he will be fine.

“At the same time, we call on all politicians to refrain from any statements and actions that may contribute to the escalation of tension.”

Since returning to the premiership of Slovakia, Fico has made contentious political moves such as dissolving an anti-corruption office in defiance of warnings from Brussels.

Last month, his coalition moved ahead with a law targeting non-governmental organisations, which critics said was inspired by Hungary’s crackdown on civil rights groups.

Back view of a person in handcuffs sitting on the ground
A person is detained after the shooting in Handlová © Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a political ally of Fico within the EU, said he was shocked by the “heinous attack against my friend”.

Other world leaders were quick to condemn the shooting. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: “Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good . . . My thoughts are with PM Fico and his family.”

US President Joe Biden said: “We condemn this horrific act of violence.”



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American Airlines CEO fired top exec after controversial ‘modern retailing’ strategy infuriated corporate clients

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American Airlines Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Robert Isom dismissed the carrier’s commercial chief in the wake of a critical report from Bain & Co. about a controversial new marketing system that alienated corporate clients, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

Isom was prompted to fire Vasu Raja within the past few days after the report, which American commissioned from Bain. It revealed concerns by corporate travel advisers over a recent shift in the airline’s sales strategy, which contributed to lagging revenue over the past few quarters, the person said Wednesday.

Raja could not be reached for comment. American announced his departure late Tuesday, and also cut its profit outlook, sending its shares down 14% the next day — the biggest drop in nearly four years.

The new system the CCO had overseen, dubbed  “modern retailing,” sought to push customers away from booking agencies in favor of buying directly through American. The airline’s sales department was cut back as part of the switch. 

But the shift angered some corporate clients and travel management firms, and Raja acknowledged recently that its growth in managed corporate travel volumes was trailing that at rivals United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc.

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Nelson Peltz sells Disney stake

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Bob Iger and Nelson Peltz.

CNBC

Activist investor Nelson Peltz has sold his entire stake in Disney, a person familiar with the matter tells CNBC.

Peltz sold all of his Disney stock at roughly $120 dollars a share, the person said, making about $1 billion on the position. The stock currently trades for about $100 per share.

The exit comes weeks after Peltz’s Trian Partners lost a proxy battle at Disney in early April as shareholders reelected the company’s full slate of board nominees. Peltz had been seeking to elect himself and former Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo to the company’s board.

Peltz had long taken issue with Disney governance. In October, CNBC reported he upped his stake in the company to about 30 million shares and had reignited his proxy campaign, taking particular aim at the company’s streaming strategy and a failed succession plan for CEO Bob Iger.

“We are proud of the impact we have had in refocusing this Company on value creation and good governance,” Trian said in a statement following the April shareholder vote.

Shares of Disney are up about 11% so far this year, slightly edging out the S&P 500.

Disney didn’t immediately return request for comment.



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Tories would swap ‘rip-off’ degrees for apprenticeships

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Hazel Shearing,Alice Evans

PA Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is shown how to splice a wire by a field service engineer apprenticePA

The prime minister visited apprentices in Liskeard, Cornwall, on Wednesday

The Conservatives have promised to scrap some university courses in England to help fund 100,000 apprenticeships per year if they win the July election.

The party says it would replace the “worst-performing” degrees that it considers a “rip-off” because of high drop-out rates and “poor” job prospects.

Labour criticised the government over a decline in the number of new apprentices.

It said it would prioritise “gearing” apprenticeships towards young people.

The Liberal Democrats said the government had treated apprentices like “second-class workers”.

The Conservatives said former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ambition to get half of young people going to university had “led to low-value degrees ballooning”.

In England, the Office for Students (OfS) can already investigate and sanction a university – for example with fines – if it falls below certain standards.

The Conservatives say they would introduce a new law allowing the independent regulator to go further and completely close the poorest-performing university courses.

They would be determined by drop-out rates, job progression and future earnings potential, the party said in a press release.

Speaking at a railway depot in Cornwall on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak added: “University is great and it makes a fantastic option for young people, but it’s not the only option… And what we do know is that there are university degrees that are letting young people down.”

Schools Minister Damian Hinds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been a “huge increase in quality” in apprenticeships under Conservative governments. Now was the time to “make sure we’re maximising the available opportunities for young people” and supporting businesses with the new scheme, he added.

Mr Hinds said it would not be “right or fair” on current students to say which courses his party considered to be “rip-off” degrees, and said it varied by individual courses rather than by subject.

“Take computer science – you get earnings outcomes from young people studying computer science degrees which will range from £18,000 to £80,000.”

A graphic which reads 'more on general election 2024'

The Conservative Party estimated that the government would save £910m by 2030 if it scrapped courses that taught 13% of students.

It said this was because the taxpayer “offsets” student loans when graduates do not earn enough money to pay them back. The logic here is that removing courses that lead to lower earnings would result in less unpaid debt.

It said its savings would allow the government to invest in 100,000 more apprentices per year by the end of the next Parliament.

The Conservatives’ calculations are based on the assumption that 75% of the students who would have enrolled on those courses would go into employment or apprenticeships instead.

However, there is no limit on the overall number of students that universities in England can admit – so universities could recruit students to other degree courses if some were closed.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said this meant it was “unclear” whether savings from scrapping “low-value” courses would be large enough to fund the Tories’ expansion plan.

Birmingham City University (BCU) vice-chancellor, Prof David Mba, said the prospect of more apprenticeships was “great” but he did not want that to be at the expense of university courses.

He said the idea that a degree was a rip-off if it did not reach a minimum earning threshold was “bonkers”, particularly for creative subjects.

“Let’s look at my Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. We train musicians, pianists, over three years; they end up with a degree and it will take them probably a while, as a creative out freelancing, to build up a career and to reach certain earning levels that might be commensurate with what the government think it should be,” he told BBC News.

Birmingham City University Prof David Mba smiles at the cameraBirmingham City University

Prof David Mba has 1,500 degree apprentices at Birmingham City University

Prof Mba said many of his students commuted from deprived parts of the West Midlands, and that BCU’s courses – including its degree apprenticeships – offered “social mobility”.

Sabeeha Anium, who studies computer science at BCU, said her degree was “not a rip-off” as she “gets to learn different things” every day.

Speaking to the BBC on her lunch break, she added: “Every single degree is valuable.”

Aaryan Shabbir, who is on the university’s accelerated two-year digital marketing course, said he would welcome seeing more apprenticeships because of concerns around student debt and finding a job post-degree.

He added: “If I’d [known] more about apprenticeships I would’ve done an apprenticeship.”

BBC/Hope Rhodes Sabeeha Anium smiles at the cameraBBC/Hope Rhodes

Sabeeha Anium studies computer science at Birmingham City University

The Association of Employment and Learning Providers welcomed the announcement and said it hoped other political parties would “match this additional funding”.

Chief executive Ben Rowland said: “Whichever party finds itself in government, there will need to be a commitment to encouraging more employers [to] offer apprenticeship opportunities.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation trade body, said the announcement was “using apprenticeships to denigrate university courses, when we need both to flourish if we’re going to grow”.

Apprenticeships are funded partly by the taxpayer as well as by the apprenticeship levy, which is essentially a tax paid by bigger businesses. Those firms, as well as smaller ones, can access the cash to spend exclusively on training apprentices.

Mr Carberry said the levy made apprenticeships more expensive to deliver – particularly lower-level apprenticeships aimed at younger people – so firms were better off if they did fewer of them.

He said while higher-level apprenticeships were replacing degrees for some people, they did not help people who would not have gone to university and needed a different route to skilled work.

Apprenticeship dropout rates in England are about one in two.

Just over half (54.6%) of apprentices completed and passed a final assessment in 2022-23 – well below the government’s 67% target by the end of 2024-25.

Asked about the dropout rate, Mr Hinds said: “It is true that some young people start an apprenticeship and then they don’t [finish it], and then they take a different turn in their career. When they do that, they’ve accumulated of course skills and experience in that job, and they’ve been earning.

“That has long been true in apprenticeships.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said the announcement was “laughable” because the Conservatives had “presided over a halving of apprenticeships for young people”.

She reiterated her party’s promises to introduce technical excellence colleges aimed at training workers for local industries, and to reform the apprenticeship levy into a “growth and skills levy”, which the party says would allow businesses to spend up to half of their levy payments on “more flexible training courses”.

Munira Wilson, education spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, said the Conservatives had “broken the apprenticeship system” and “urgent reform is needed”.

“The shockingly low pay for those on apprenticeships will remain, doing nothing to encourage more people to take apprenticeships up or tackle soaring drop-out rates,” she said.

Additional reporting by Branwen Jeffreys and Hope Rhodes.



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