Slovak leader faces public wrath over response to reporter’s murder

Robert Fico receives support from fellow populist, Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán

Demonstrators hold posters linking Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico to the mafia during an anti-government rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday. Photograph: Ronald Zak/AP

Demonstrators hold posters linking Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico to the mafia during an anti-government rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday. Photograph: Ronald Zak/AP

 

Slovakia’s embattled prime minister Robert Fico has held talks to stabilise his fractious coalition government, amid growing domestic and international unease over his response to the murder of an investigative journalist.

Tens of thousands of Slovaks rallied in the capital, Bratislava, and across the country on Friday, to demand the government’s resignation and an end to high-level corruption following the killing of Ján Kuciak.

Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova, both 27, were found shot dead at his house outside Bratislava on February 25th.

His last investigation, published after his death, revealed links between an adviser to Mr Fico, the secretary of Slovakia’s security council, and an Italian businessman who is suspected of having ties to the Calabria-based ’Ndrangheta mafia group.

The adviser and the official have resigned while denying any wrongdoing, but Slovak president Andrej Kiska, opposition leaders and even some deputies in Mr Fico’s coalition are demanding elections or a major cabinet shake-up.

Mr Fico held talks over the weekend with Béla Bugár, leader of the Most-Híd party that is a member of the ruling alliance and is calling for the sacking of scandal-plagued interior minister Robert Kalinák, who is a close ally of the prime minister.

No breakthrough

Slovak media reported that the talks delivered no breakthrough, and Most-Híd has said it will reveal on Tuesday whether it plans to quit the coalition.

Its departure would deprive Mr Fico of a majority in parliament, and could enable opponents to push through a no-confidence vote in his government – although this would not automatically trigger a snap election.

Mr Kiska is holding his own talks with party leaders and has backed protesters, who he described as “decent people who stood up for a decent Slovakia”.

Mr Fico accuses critics of his Smer party of “dancing on the graves” of Kuciak and Kusnirova, and claims Mr Kiska wants to oust him with help from billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

While Mr Fico’s opponents deride the claim as a baseless conspiracy theory, he received backing from his fellow populist leader in neighbouring Hungary, Viktor Orbán.

It seems that the leadership of the Slovak government is not doing everything to clarify the two murders

The Hungarian prime minister said he sees the “fingerprints of Soros and his organisations” on the protests and political turmoil in Slovakia, and claimed that “Soros’s network makes every possible effort to topple anti-immigration governments” like Mr Fico’s and his own.

Reward

No one has been arrested over the murders, despite Slovak police seeking international assistance and the government offering a €1 million reward for help in solving the crime.

Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), said he had heard “worrisome” reports from some members of a European Parliament delegation that visited Slovakia in recent days.

“For us it seems that the leadership of the Slovak government is not doing everything to clarify the two murders,” he tweeted on Sunday.

“If prime minister Fico wants to keep some credibility, he must dismiss the interior minister . . . We expect the govt to make every effort to clarify the crimes and guarantee the freedom of the media.”

The EPP includes Most-Híd – and Fine Gael – while Smer belongs to the rival Party of European Socialists bloc.