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Malta PM transfer 'not natural': slain blogger's sister

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Valletta (AFP)

Slain Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia's sister on Monday said premier Joseph Muscat's handing power to his successor "doesn't look good" given charges he interfered in the probe into her killing.

Muscat, 45, resigned on Monday, handing over power to the new head of his Labour Party, Robert Abela, amid uproar over the government's handling of the investigation into the brutal 2017 slaying of blogger Caruana Galizia in a car bomb explosion.

The murdered blogger's sister, Corinne Vella, 54, criticised the government for behaving as though everything is normal on the small Mediterranean island.

"They're holding the whole transition as if it were a natural transition of power," Vella told AFP in an interview.

"That is the image they are trying to create (but) he is not leaving with a good track record. He is leaving in disgrace," she said of Muscat.

He wanted to hand power over quietly "in good terms and to keep the country stable," Vella said.

Muscat's fall from power followed daily protests by demonstrators who accuse him among other things of shielding his chief of staff and childhood friend Keith Schembri, who has been implicated in the murder.

Three men are on trial for allegedly detonating the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia, while a fourth -- powerful businessman Jorgen Fenech -- was charged as an accomplice after being detained as he tried to leave the country on his yacht.

Fenech's arrest in November sparked the resignation of tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, who formerly served as energy minister, and Schembri.

Caruana Galizia, described as a "one-woman WikiLeaks", had accused Mezzi and Schembri of corruption.

Vella asked why Schembri and Mizzi were behaving as though nothing was wrong.

"These are men... slated to receive money from a man who is indicted for murder," she said, referring to Fenech.

Abela promised to uphold the rule of law, but, noted Vella: "How can you have good governance and you're taking the place of a man who's leaving because of a murder?"

"And at the same time you say you're going to keep him involved in your government. That does not look good at all."

Vella said that Malta's criminal justice system is "broken" and needs to be fixed.

"Constitutional change is an absolute necessity and not just a random list of recommendations," she said.

"Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the prime minister."

The activist movements Repubblika and Occupy Justice have called for the new prime minister to "clean up" the country, which is home to gambling companies and 70,000 offshore companies.

Journalists still working in Malta remain "in danger if they want to investigate and it has a chilling effect if you get too close," Vella said, noting that Muscat has not given an interview for two years.

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