Thousands of Slovaks rally for media freedom, snap elections

Bratislava (AFP) –


Tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the streets on Friday calling for snap elections and media freedom, the latest in a wave of anti-government protests since the February murder of a journalist probing high-level corruption.

Protesters in the capital Bratislava held up signs with such slogans such as "We want an election" and "Imprison (former PM) Fico" as they remembered slain journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova.

The local Dennik N daily estimated that around 25,000 people turned out in Bratislava, while smaller rallies took place in other cities on the eve of what would have been the couple's wedding day.

Police have said that Kuciak's death was "most likely" related to his investigation of ties between politicians and the Italian mafia.

The murder and Kuciak's last explosive report plunged the EU member of 5.4 million people into crisis, sparking weekly protests that forced the government to resign in March.

The new government retains most of the members of the previous administration of Robert Fico, whose close ally Peter Pellegrini is now prime minister.

Analysts believe Fico is still calling the shots from behind the scenes as he remains chairman of the governing Smer-SD party.

Earlier street protests led to the resignation of Fico, former interior minister Robert Kalinak and police president Tibor Gaspar.

On Friday the demonstrators targeted Jaroslav Reznik, head of the public broadcaster RTVS from which several journalists have resigned or been dismissed recently.

More than 200 journalists from various Slovak media outlets signed an open letter expressing their concern over the situation at the broadcaster.

"Those trying to silence the media are first and foremost meddling with the right of the public to know what is happening in the country," said the letter.

President Andrej Kiska has also expressed his concern, posting on Facebook on Thursday: "Free and independent media are an important and inevitable condition for democracy."

RTVS head Jaroslav Reznik on Friday denied that there was any censorship and told reporters the broadcaster's problems would be revolved in the next few days.

Earlier Friday, Slovak prosecutors decided to extradite an Italian businessman who was named by Kuciak in his investigative report.

In March police arrested Antonino Vadala, the owner of several companies based in Slovakia, in connection with a European arrest warrant issued by Italy last year over alleged drug trafficking.

He also faces charges of attempted EU subsidy fraud in Slovakia. He has flatly denied the allegations, which were first made public in Kuciak's article.