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Malta journalists take common stand after brutal murder

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Valletta (AFP)

Malta's journalists rallied Thursday to insist they would not be intimidated by the brutal assassination that silenced the island nation's foremost investigative writer.

Hundreds of news industry workers gathered outside the parliament in Valletta, holding up front pages and placards splattered in blood red paint, as the sons of Daphne Caruana Galizia dismissed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's offer of a reward to help find her killers and called for him to quit.

"This is one of the most despicable acts ever carried out in this country. Nobody deserves to die for exercising the right to speak," said Herman Grech, online editor at The Times of Malta, reading a common statement on the industry's behalf.

"We stand here today to give hope to society. This attack on one of us will not stop us from shining a light where others want darkness. The attack on one of us will not muzzle us. The attack on one of us will not stop us from fulfilling our role as a watchdog to the institutions. We will stand up to intimidation."

The statement urged the government to promote press freedom and stop tolerating incitement against the free media.

"We will not stop. We will not be afraid," Grech concluded, to heavy applause.

Carrying a red-spattered Maltese flag, the journalists marched to the Courts of Justice, where an application was filed calling for the investigation into Caruana Galizia's murder to ensure her sources are protected.

The anti-corruption campaigner was killed in a car bomb attack on Monday.

- United front -

Malta's newspapers, broadcasters and online media, including the country's many politically partisan outlets, will all carry a common message about press freedom on Sunday.

"We have agreed a national campaign under the slogan: 'the pen conquers fear'," Norma Saliba, chair of the Institute of Maltese Journalists, told AFP.

"Many reporters have felt threatened. We have to report what the people want and need to know," Saliba said.

The murder has caused international shock and prompted much soul-searching in Malta over whether the Mediterranean island is becoming a cesspit of corruption against the backdrop of an economic boom which some see as having allowed both organised crime and a kickbacks culture to flourish.

Caruana Galizia, 53, had used her widely read blog to highlight numerous cases of suspected corruption, including several scandals implicating Muscat's inner circle which had left her facing a string of legal suits.

Following the allegations, the Labour leader called, and won, an early election in June.

Muscat, who was in Brussels on Thursday, has ruled out quitting and has vowed, with the help of FBI investigators, to bring to justice those responsible for killing a reporter he has described as his "greatest adversary".

- Sons slam reward offer -

Mark Wood, editor of The Sunday Times of Malta, said the industry needed to take up the baton from Caruana Galizia.

"Daphne was probably the foremost investigative journalist in Malta, so it's very difficult to replace her," he told AFP.

"This has brought us together in a sense of defiance. If there is one good thing coming out of this, it is a sense that we need to continue her work."

On Wednesday, Muscat told parliament that the government would put up a "substantial and unprecedented reward" for information leading to a conviction over Monday's assassination.

Her sons Matthew, Andrew and Paul said Thursday that the government was putting up a million euros, but vowed they would not bow to pressure to endorse the idea.

"We are not interested in a criminal conviction only for the people in government who stood to gain from our mother's murder to turn around and say that justice has been served," they said.

"The prime minister asked for our endorsement. This is how he can get it: show political responsibility and resign."

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