Slovakia's PM ready to resign amid journalist murder scandal

Slovakia's PM ready to resign amid journalist murder scandal

14/03/2018 17:04 - Robert Fico offers to step down after large protests following killing of Ján Kuciak

AFP - Slovakia’s prime minister has offered to resign, under pressure from the opposition for his handling of a scandal over the killing of a journalist investigating political corruption.

Robert Fico has been struggling since February with the scandal over the murder of Ján Kuciak, 27, and his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová.

Police have said the double murder was “most likely” related to Kuciak’s investigation of ties between Slovakia’s top politicians and Italy’s ’Ndrangheta mafia.

The killing has prompted large protests against Fico’s government, with tens of thousands of Slovaks turning out for rallies.

In a public address late on Wednesday, Fico said: “Today I have offered my resignation to the president of the republic. If the president accepts it, I am ready to resign tomorrow.”

The prime minister’s three-party coalition government is facing a no-confidence vote by members of parliament scheduled for next Monday.

The interior minister, Robert Kaliňák, resigned on Monday in a bid to save the government from collapsing.

But a minor member of Slovakia’s three-way governing coalition, the Most-Hid party, raised the pressure further, calling for early elections.

The president, Andrej Kiska, had also called for early elections – or sweeping government changes – earlier this month.

Fico has resisted the call for snap polls. He warned the country could “plunge into chaos if the current opposition takes power”.

The Slovakian newspaper Sme reported that Fico’s Smer-SD party may field the deputy prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, 42, as a candidate to succeed Fico.

Kuciak and Kušnírová, both 27, were found shot dead on 25 February at their home near the capital, Bratislava.

The murder and Kuciak’s article, published after his death, sparked a wave of anti-government sentiment in Slovakia, an EU and Nato member of 5.4 million people.

Fico’s close aide Mária Trošková was alleged to have links to one of the Italians named in Kuciak’s story.

The EU urged Slovakia to swiftly investigate the murder. “The top priority for all of us must be to carry out an independent and thorough investigation of the facts and bring those responsible to justice,” the security commissioner, Julian King, told MEPs on Wednesday. “We call upon the Slovak authorities to do this quickly.”

The double murder raised fresh concern about media freedom and corruption both in Slovakia and more widely in Europe. It followed the assassination in October of the investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had denounced corruption in Malta.