Slovak president asks deputy PM to form new govt


Bratislava (AFP)

Slovakia's president on Thursday asked Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini to form a new government after accepting the premier's resignation following a public backlash over an investigative journalist's murder.

President Andrej Kiska handed Pellegrini -- who is closely allied with embattled outgoing Prime Minister Robert Fico -- the mandate in a ceremony televised live.

"The only reason I resigned was to prevent chaos in this country and to ensure stability. Snap elections would not have brought any stability," Fico told reporters after handing in his resignation earlier at the presidential palace.

"I am not going anywhere. I will be an active chairman of the strongest political party," said the 53-year-old leader of the Smer-SD party to which Pellegrini also belongs.

Kiska had earlier said he was informed by the three coalition parties -- Smer-SD, plus junior partners Most-Hid and the Slovak National Party -- "that they have the support of the majority in parliament for a new government led by Mr Pellegrini".

Fico offered to resign after Most-Hid called for early elections and said it would quit the coalition government if talks failed.

Political analyst Pavol Babos said tensions should now ease, though he believes Fico will continue to call the shots from behind the scenes.

"The only way to avoid this would be if Fico himself decided to leave politics. From what he said, however, it is clear that he will want to affect the government's actions even if he will not be a member of it any longer," the Bratislava-based analyst told AFP.

"I do not expect any major changes in Slovak politics. It is still the same coalition parties, and most of the ministers remain in position."

He added that it is a "big problem" and a "conflict of interest" that the interior minister position will remain in the hands of Smer-SD after Robert Kalinak resigned earlier this week.

"The murdered journalist was writing about the links of the Italian mafia to the broader leadership of the Smer party," Babos said.

- Mafia ties? -

Journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, both 27, who were found shot dead on February 25 at their home near the capital Bratislava.

Police said Kuciak's death was "most likely" related to his investigation into ties between Slovakia's top politicians and Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia.

Fico's close aide Maria Troskova was alleged to have links to one of the Italians named in Kuciak's story.

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.

A recent poll by the Focus institute found that 62 percent of Slovaks were in favour of Fico's resignation, while only 13 percent felt he should stay.

Street protests this month saw tens of thousands of Slovak demonstrate against the government.

Protests will continue on Friday across the country, despite Fico's resignation.

Rally organisers continue to call for early elections as they believe the government reorganisation does nothing to change the management of the institutions responsible for investigating Kuciak's murder.

The killing had raised fresh concern about media freedom and corruption both in Slovakia and Europe.

On Wednesday, the EU urged Slovakia to swiftly investigate it.

"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 EU's security commissioner Julian King told MEPs in Strasbourg.

"We call upon the Slovak authorities to do this quickly."

Fico has been in power since 2012 and is known abroad for his anti-immigrant stance.

The veteran leftist had laid down three conditions for his resignation.

Kiska should respect the outcome of the 2016 parliamentary elections, respect and uphold the coalition agreement that forms the basis of the current government, and accept that Fico's Smer-SD party would put forward a candidate to replace him, the prime minister demanded.