March 5, 2018 / 4:18 PM / 15 days ago

Slovak PM fights president's pressure to shake-up government

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is ready to discuss issues with his two coalition partners following the murder of an investigative journalist, he said on Monday, but fought back against pressure to shake up his cabinet.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives at the EU summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

President Andrej Kiska, in a televised address on Sunday, called either for substantial changes to the government or for early elections to rebuild public trust following the killing of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova.

Kuciak, 27, focussed on tax fraud cases and links between businessman and politicians and had been probing suspected mafia links among Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia before he was found shot dead with Kusnirova late last month.

One of the subjects of his final report, published posthumously last week, had past links to two people who subsequently went on to work in Fico’s office. Both have resigned and denied any link to the killing.

But pressure is building on the long-time prime minister in the wake of the journalist’s murder as public anger swells over allegations of corruption in the European Union member state.

Fico is facing calls for changes from the opposition and some within his coalition, with a junior party demanding the removal of Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, a Fico ally.

Fico has rejected Sunday’s proposals by Kiska, who has no formal powers to end the government.

“I want to say that we are able to solve political issues in a short time and I want to convey this message also to our coalition partners, that we are ready for such talks,” Fico said on Monday.

“Should we have any problems, we will solve them on our own. By no means do we need the president that all of a sudden talks about a substantial reconstruction of the government, including a confidence vote, or him speaking about early election.”


Fico also said that events since the murder “suggest it is an attempt towards total destabilisation (of) this state”.

He asked Kiska to explain why he met billionaire financier George Soros during his trip to New York last September and did not take a foreign ministry representative. But he did not elaborate and declined to take questions.

In neighbouring Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew whose liberal views on immigration clash with his own, of interfering in Hungarian politics by supporting opposition groups. Soros has described Orban as a dangerous autocrat.

Fico’s attack on the Slovak president was criticised by junior government party Most-Hid, which has pushed for the interior minister’s sacking.

“Fico’s words are incomprehensible and unacceptable,” the party said. “The prime minister chose a dangerous path, from which it might not be possible to come back. We are calling on Fico not to make statements that would make further talks on the government reconstruction impossible.”

The president’s spokesman also hit back. “The prime minister ignores that his government is falling,” news server Dennik N cited his spokesman as saying.

“Diverting attention with conspiracy theories does not remove his responsibility to deal with the deep political crisis or make room for someone who can deal with it.”

Kiska is due to start talks with political parties on Wednesday but so far has no meeting scheduled with coalition members.

Slovak police detained seven people on Thursday in its investigation of Kuciak’s death, releasing partial names that matched subjects who he referred to in his final article. Those detained were released over the weekend.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans

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