Thousands of people have gathered in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires to show solidarity and support for Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who survived an assassination attempt outside her home.
The show of support on Friday came less than 24 hours after a man attempted to fire a gun at Fernandez de Kirchner, who previously served as the country’s president, at close range amid a crowd of her supporters.
The gunman, who was standing a few steps from the vice president, pulled the trigger on Thursday evening, but the weapon did not fire.
Authorities have yet to determine a motive for the attack, but a suspect – identified as 35-year-old Brazilian Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel – has been arrested.
“Luckily the bullet didn’t come out because the consequences could have been much worse,” said Florencia Suera, a 22-year-old worker in Buenos Aires.
Oscar Delupi, 64, a railway worker in the capital, blamed political divisions for the violence. “It’s crazy, society has already lost its temper a little, the message of hate … is becoming more and more fierce in those weak-minded people who opt for a crazy thing like an attack,” he said.
The incident has sent shockwaves across Argentina and the wider region, and spurred condemnation from world leaders on Friday.
It also comes as Fernandez de Kirchner faces corruption charges, which she denies, and as the South American nation is reeling from deepening political polarisation and an economic crisis fuelled by skyrocketing inflation.
Reporting from Buenos Aires, journalist Natalio Cosoy described the demonstration backing Fernandez de Kirchner as “massive”.
“The emotions are high, but it’s also a relief for them the fact that [the assassination] didn’t succeed, so there are mixed feelings … shock and relief,” Cosoy told Al Jazeera.
He added that the vice president’s supporters have been trying to come together in her defence since before the assassination attempt to reject the corruption charges against her, which they view as politically motivated.
Oscar Parrilli, a senator and ally of the vice president, told local radio that Fernandez de Kircher was okay but in shock following the attack. “Luckily, she has her spirit intact,” he said.
Javier Farje, a political analyst, said the attempt on Fernandez de Kirchner’s life may increase her popularity.
“The video shows really clearly a gun against my head,” Farje told Al Jazeera. “The shock in Argentina society is so huge that it might help her ironically to regain some of the popularity that she might have lost among people who do not agree with her.”
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez, who is not related to Fernandez de Kirchner, called the assassination attempt the “most serious event” the country has endured since its return to democracy in 1983 after years of military rule.
“Cristina is still alive because – for a reason that is yet to be confirmed technically – the weapon that had five bullets did not fire despite being triggered,” the president said. He also declared Friday a national holiday in defence of democracy.
Cosoy, the journalist, said Fernandez has stressed a message of unity.
“This is a very polarised country in political terms … So I think now [Fernandez] is trying to tackle that issue and speaking about trying to come together and lower the levels of aggression in public speech,” Cosoy said.
The left-wing Fernandez de Kirchner served two terms as president between 2007 and 2015.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the failed attack on Fernandez de Kirchner on Friday, saying that Washington stands “with the Argentine government and people in rejecting violence and hate”.
Mexico’s left-wing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also condemned the attack as “deplorable”, calling Fernandez de Kirchner’s survival “miraculous”.