Slovak leader urges govt change or new election after killing


Bratislava (AFP)

Slovakian President Andrej Kiska called Sunday for sweeping changes to the government or snap elections, following the murder of an investigative journalist that shocked the country, a call swiftly rejected by the prime minister.

"I can see two solutions: a profound change to government or early elections," Kiska said in a televised tribute to slain reporter Jan Kuciak, who had been probing alleged high-level political corruption before he was found shot dead last week.

Kuciak's murder has raised fresh concern about media freedom and corruption both in Slovakia and Europe.

However Prime Minister Robert Fico, a leftist who does not shy away from using populist rhetoric, swiftly rejected the president's appeals outright.

"We are not going to dance on the graves of these two young people," he said.

"If there needs to be a change of government, that will be the result of agreement within the coalition and, in that case, the constitution of the Republic of Slovakia foresees no role for the president," he added, accusing Kiska of "lining up with the opposition".

Kuciak's employer posthumously published his latest investigation this week, which appeared focused on fraud cases involving businessmen linked to Fico's governing SMER-SD party.

Police have said the journalist's death was "most likely" related to his journalism work.

The government's response to the killing has drawn criticism, in spite of several high-profile resignations.

- 'Arrogance of power' -

Authorities this week detained several Italian businessmen named by Kuciak but on Saturday they were released due to lack of evidence.

Kiska lamented what he termed the "arrogance of power" among senior officials and criticised the lack of action to restore public confidence in the government.

"I've waited a week to see what political measures the government would take to help ease tensions and re-establish trust," he said.

"Some have resigned but I see no plan to bring the country out of this crisis of confidence."

Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, both 27, were shot dead at their home near the capital Bratislava on February 25.

Thousands flocked to candlelit anti-corruption vigils for the murdered journalist held on Friday across Slovakia, an EU and NATO country of 5.4 million people.

The latest protests echoed a wave of anti-graft rallies by mostly young Slovaks last year demanding the dismissal of senior police officials and ministers in Fico's government for alleged foot-dragging on fighting corruption.

Fico has accused the opposition of using the killings as "a political tool to get people out on the streets".

- 'Anti-Slovak prostitutes' -

Slovak media reported that among those held, then released, after Kuciak's murder was businessman Antonino Vadala -- the owner of several companies -- and some of his relatives, alleged by Kuciak to have links to the mafia and contacts in the Slovak government.

Two close Fico associates were forced to resign after Kuciak's article was posthumously published on Wednesday, while one minister quit in protest.

Echoing opposition parties, the leader of Most Hid, a junior partner in Fico's three-party coalition, has also demanded Interior Minister Robert Kalinak resign.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) head Christophe Deloire, who met with Fico on Friday, has deplored the "appalling climate for journalists" that has been sustained and even created by many European politicians including government leaders, his group said.

Fico, who once told journalists they were "dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes" and used terms like "plain, silly hyenas" and "slimy snakes" to describe the media, has vowed his government is committed to the "protection of freedom of speech and the safety of journalists".

Kuciak's murder follows the October 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who had denounced corruption in Malta.