Mass protests continue in Slovakia over journalist’s murder

Thousands take to the streets over the government’s handling of the killing

People gather in Slovak National Uprising  Square during a rally  to pay tribute to murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, in Bratislava. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

People gather in Slovak National Uprising Square during a rally to pay tribute to murdered Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, in Bratislava. Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

 

Thousands of people protested across Slovakia on Friday against their government’s handling of a journalist’s murder and to demand an end to high-level corruption, as talks between the country’s leaders failed to end a spiralling crisis.

For the second Friday running, rallies in the capital Bratislava and other towns and cities piled pressure on Slovak officials and security services to find whoever killed investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova.

They were found shot dead in Kuciak’s home outside Bratislava on February 25th, prompting the publication of his last, unfinished article, which revealed possible links between senior Slovak political figures and Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia group.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska, opposition parties and even members of the ruling coalition have urged populist prime minister Robert Fico to call elections or overhaul a cabinet that is dogged by allegations of corruption and incompetence.

Mr Fico has rejected such demands, however, and accused Mr Kiska of conspiring with liberal philanthropist George Soros to launch a “coup” in Slovakia, with the help of opposition leaders and national media outlets that are critical of the government.

After some 20,000 people rallied across the nation last Friday, organisers hoped for a bigger turnout this week – possibly making the marches, titled “For a Decent Slovakia”, the nation’s biggest protest since the end of communism in 1989.

Demonstrators attend a protest over the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, in Bratislava. Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters
Demonstrators attend a protest over the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, in Bratislava. Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

The marches are demanding an independent investigation into the double murder, with the help of foreign experts, and “a new, trustworthy cabinet that will not act on behalf of people who are suspected of corruption and connections to organised crime”, one protest organiser, Juraj Seliga, told local media.

Public anger

Public shock and outrage over the killing of Kuciak and Kusnirova, who were both 27-years-old, turned to anger when it was revealed that the reporter had been investigating links between alleged ‘Ndrangheta figures and people close to Mr Fico.

An adviser to the premier and a party colleague who was secretary of Slovakia’s security council resigned last week after being implicated in the article, while denying any wrongdoing.

The culture minister has also quit, but powerful interior minister Robert Kalinak and police chiefs have resisted fierce pressure to step down, even amid allegations that Slovakia ignored warnings from Italy over mafia activity in the country.

Mr Fico met Mr Kiska and parliamentary speaker Andrej Danko on Friday, but they failed to agree on a joint declaration on how to tackle the crisis.

“We want society to remain peaceful and calm and [Slovakia’s] top three officials will do their best to prevent the events of recent days from being politically exploited,” Mr Danko said in a brief statement.

Mr Fico said he would hold talks with coalition partners over the weekend to try to avert the collapse of his ruling alliance.

The government has formed a special team to investigate the murders and offered a €1 million reward for information that helps solve the crime, but no arrests have been made so far.

Seven Italians were released after being held for questioning in eastern Slovakia, where Kuciak’s last investigation suggested that the ‘Ndrangheta was involved in schemes to fraudulently access EU farm subsidies.