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What we know about the failed attempt to assassinate Argentina's vice president

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A man aimed a loaded handgun at point-blank range at the face of the vice president of Argentina last night. But the gun failed to fire, and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is still alive. The suspected gunman has been detained. Argentina's president has called the incident, quote, "the most serious event since we recovered democracy." Here with more details is Natalie Alcoba, a journalist based in Buenos Aires. She is outside the courthouse, where a judge has been taking witness statements on what happened to Fernandez. Welcome.

NATALIE ALCOBA: Hello. How are you?

CHANG: I'm good. So can you tell us a little more about what happened last night?

ALCOBA: Yes. So at around 9 p.m. local time, the vice president was returning home to her apartment in a upscale neighborhood of Buenos Aires. This has been the scene for over a week now of very enthusiastic demonstrations and rallies in support of her, which stem from a corruption case that she's currently in the middle of.

CHANG: Right.

ALCOBA: But people have been rallying and defending her and kind of showing their support of her outside of her house. And so there was a large crowd. And there is this scene that is captured on - by several, you know, cellphone videos. And a man does pull out a revolver and pulls the trigger, and nothing fires out. She kind of raises her hands, crouches a bit. The man pulls away and is then chased by people who have seen what has happened and quickly apprehended by the federal police, who later retrieve a gun. And he has been detained.

CHANG: What do we know about this man so far? Do we know anything about motive?

ALCOBA: We do not. I mean, this is early hours in the investigation. His name is Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel. He's 35 years old. He's born in Brazil but appears to also be an Argentine citizen. And that's about as...

CHANG: OK.

ALCOBA: ...Concrete as we have at this stage.

CHANG: OK. Well, let's just step back for a bit and talk about Fernandez because, as you mentioned, she's in the middle of a corruption trial at the moment. Can you explain why she's being prosecuted and then also tell us - you know, she's been a fairly divisive figure in the country. Can you explain the context for that?

ALCOBA: Yes. So Fernandez de Kirchner is probably, I would say, one of if not the most polarizing political figures in Argentina today - you know, is deeply loved but then also strongly reviled by different sectors of society. She's in the late stages of a corruption trial that dates back to her years as president, which were from 2007 to 2015. She's accused of leading, like, an illicit association during her years in the presidency that essentially siphoned state dollars into public works contracts that were awarded to a family friend. She has repeatedly declared her innocence and says that she is a victim of judicial and political persecution. And so she spoke some more about that last week. And it was the culmination of those two events that have led to these strong demonstrations out on the street, different clashes as well between police and people who support her. So it's been increasingly tense here.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, since what happened last night, can you talk about how people have been reacting, not just the government but people all around the country and beyond Argentina?

ALCOBA: Absolute horror, really. I mean, the images that you see are quite shocking. She's received, you know, expressions of solidarity and support from numerous leaders across Latin America. You know, the pope issued a telegram to her expressing his support. You know, it's certainly news around the world. I mean, she's somebody whose image and whose politics have kind of transcended outside of Argentina. She's a strong figure of leftist governments in Latin America that have had different moments in power. And certainly, Latin America's seen in some countries, like, a return to leftist governments. And so the repercussions have been huge. It's also clear that, like, the political rhetoric has become increasingly aggressive here in Argentina, certainly in the last couple of weeks in the wake of this latest step on the corruption trial - so very strong language...

CHANG: Yeah.

ALCOBA: ...And back-and-forth from both sides.

CHANG: That is Natalie Alcoba, a journalist based in Buenos Aires. Thank you very much for joining us today.

ALCOBA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.