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Slovak leader urges govt changes amid crisis over reporter

UPDATED: Sun., March 4, 2018

Relatives and friends attend the funeral of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in Stiavnik, Slovakia, on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Bundas Engler / Associated Press)
Relatives and friends attend the funeral of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in Stiavnik, Slovakia, on Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Bundas Engler / Associated Press)
Associated Press

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovak President Andrej Kiska called Sunday for substantial changes in the country’s coalition government or for an early election to resolve the “serious political crisis” resulting from the slayings of an investigative reporter and his fiancee.

His rival, Prime Minister Robert Fico, dismissed the president’s proposals.

For his last unfinished story, 27-year-old Jan Kuciak reported on the influence of the Italian mafia in Slovakia and its possible ties to people close to the prime minister. The journalist and fiancee Martina Kusnirova were found fatally shot in their house on Feb. 25.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in dozens of Slovak cities Friday to honor Kuciak, with some demanding the resignation of Fico’s government.

“There’s a huge public distrust of the state,” Kiska said in a televised speech Sunday. “And many don’t trust law enforcement authorities … This distrust is justified. We crossed the line, things went too far and there’s no way back.”

A junior party in the ruling coalition and opposition politicians have called for Interior Minister Robert Kalinak to resign. Kalinak, who was linked to an earlier corruption scandal, has refused.

Kiska says he will open talks with the country’s leaders in the coming days. Two coalition partners in government, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party and a party of ethnic Hungarians known as Most-Hid, said they were ready to meet Kiska.

Hours after the president’s address, Fico said any changes in the current three-party coalition government would have to be approved by the coalition members and the president has no say in the matter.

Fico said Kiska’s proposals denied the result of the 2016 parliamentary election. He charged that the president has sided with the opposition.

“I cannot agree with what Mr. President said,” Fico said.

An early election would have to be approved by parliament.

Kiska said he thinks the investigators in the case were doing a good job, but added that “many believe that this tragedy in many aspects reflects the Slovak reality.”

Earlier Sunday, Slovak authorities renewed their investigation of threats against Kuciak, who alleged last year that businessman Marian Kocner threatened him following the publication of a story about him. The reporter said he filed a complaint with police and alleged they failed to act.

Kocner has denied any wrongdoing.

During a debate Sunday on the TA3 news television, Prosecutor General Jaromir Ciznar acknowledged the previous complaint and said investigators will re-examine the threats. He added, however, that he personally didn’t believe the case had anything to do with Kuciak’s death.

Ciznar said Italian experts will likely join the local investigators working on the case.

The Slovaks previously have said the FBI, Britain’s Scotland Yard, Europol and police forces from Italy and the Czech Republic are helping them with the investigation.

A former Italian anti-mafia prosecutor has said that Italy tried to warn Slovakia about the increased influence of the Italian mafia there.

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