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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jon Henley Europe correspondent

Danish PM ‘not doing great’ four days after assault in Copenhagen

Frederiksen in front of a microphone at an earlier event.
Frederiksen, who became Denmark’s youngest prime minister in 2019, has not appeared in public since the attack. Photograph: Mads Claus Rasmussen/EPA

Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has said she needed time out with her family to recover from the shock of being assaulted on a Copenhagen square last week and, while she has continued working, she is still “not feeling great”.

In her first interview since last Friday’s attack, in which she suffered minor whiplash, Frederiksen, 46, told the public broadcaster DR that she was still suffering pain in her head, neck and shoulder, but the psychological shock had affected her most.

“It’s very intimidating that there’s someone who crosses the last physical limit that you have, and are allowed to have, as a human being. There is some shock and some surprise in that,” she said, adding that she was “not quite myself yet”.

A 39-year-old Polish man has been charged with committing violence against a person in public service.

The attacks came after several recent incidents of violence against politicians in Europe. In May, Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, was shot and seriously injured. A German Social Democrat MEP was hit putting up posters in Dresden.

A German senator was also briefly sent to hospital after being struck over the head, while a candidate for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party was stabbed in the south-west German city of Mannheim.

According to police, the suspect walked towards Frederiksen shortly before 6pm local time on Friday on Kultorvet, a popular cafe-lined pedestrian square in central Copenhagen, and punched her on the right upper arm with his clenched fist.

The man, who has not been named, told a hearing on Saturday that he thought Frederiksen was “a really good prime minister”. Police, who do not believe the attack was politically motivated, said that at the time of the assault he was heavily intoxicated and possibly under the influence of drugs.

“It was a big scare,” Frederiksen told DR. “In that situation, you need some time with your family and those close to you. I needed peace.” The assault came amid a steady coarsening of public debate and after a succession of personal attacks, she said.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s probably also an accumulation of many other things – threats and a very harsh tone on social media, over a long period of time, that has got much worse, especially since the war in the Middle East,” she told the broadcaster.

“Shouting in the public space … people behaving very aggressively. Maybe this was the final straw.” The assault “crossed a line”, she said, adding that, even if it was not politically motivated, it happened because she was recognised as prime minister.

“As a human being, it feels like an attack on me,” Frederiksen said. “But I have no doubt that it was the prime minister that was hit. So in this way, it also becomes a kind of attack on all of us. No form of violence has any place in our society.”

She added: “I am Mette in my own core, but I am also the country’s prime minister, and therefore a position and an institution in our society that you must not actually attack – just as you must not attack the police, either.”

Frederiksen said she had continued “doing my job as prime minister, and I always want to do that. I was also able to do that over the weekend – but not in the same way I usually do.” The attack would prompt security considerations in future, she said.

“Something is brewing in society,” she said. “I feel it in my colleagues, too. We have to face way more than we used to.” The boundaries of what politicians could be exposed to had “shifted hugely”, she told DR, and there were places they could no longer go.

“I am so sad about this, because we have always been so happy – and I think proud – of a country where the prime minister cycles to work and we meet down at Brugsen [a Danish supermarket chain],” she said.

“Every time one more thing happens, there is a little more protection, we become a little more afraid, and there is a little bit more distance. I would rather have a Denmark where the prime minister can cycle to work without being afraid.”

While she insisted the assault had not made her reconsider “whether it was all worth it”, she cancelled all her planned events over the weekend, including a party held by her Social Democrats party after the European parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The Social Democrats collected only 15.6% of the vote, a historic low. The Green Left party was the night’s big winner with 17.4% of the vote, although both parties will send three MEPs to the European parliament.

Frederiksen described the result as a warning from the voters. “I am really sorry about this result,” she said. “I’m listening. Both as a Social Democrat, and as far as the coalition government is concerned.”

Frederiksen became the youngest ever Danish prime minister when she took office in 2019. She won re-election in legislative elections in 2022.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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