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article imageProtests mark a year since Slovak journalist's murder

By Laszlo JUHASZ (AFP)     Feb 21, 2019 in World

Tens of thousands of Slovaks rallied Thursday to mark a year since the gangland-style murder of a journalist probing corruption sparked a crisis that forced the prime minister to quit.

Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were gunned down at home as he was about to publish a report on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia and associated irregularities in EU farm subsidy payments.

The murder and his explosive report plunged the country of 5.4 million people into crisis, sparking mass protests that led the government to resign.

Marking the anniversary of his death on February 25, 2018, around 30,000 people marched Thursday in Bratislava, organisers said, while thousands also rallied in dozens of other cities and towns across Slovakia.

"We need to cleanse this mafia state," Zlatica Kusnirova, Martina's mother, told protesters gathered in Presov, eastern Slovakia, with tears in her eyes.

Protesters in Bratislava rang a bell 12 times to start the demonstration.

"This symbolises the twelve months that have changed Slovakia... We will not forget and are not going anywhere," said Juraj Seliga, one of the organisers.

Kuciak’s father Jozef said told protesters that the Slovak secret service, police and a businessman implicated by the journalist in graft had been watching his son.

"I think everyone can draw their own conclusions about what kind of democracy we live in," he said.

Slovak President Andrej Kiska told reporters earlier on Thursday that Kuciak "was killed only because he wanted to reveal the truth about the high-ranking people who appeared to be untouchable."

- Contract killing? -

Prosecutors have indicted four suspects in connection with the murders, including a woman identified only as Alena Zs.

Investigators allege she ordered the killing for 50,000 euros ($58,100) and the cancellation of a 20,000-euro debt.

Local media reported that Alena Zs. had worked as an interpreter for Slovak entrepreneur Marian Kocner, whose business activities were the subject of an investigation by Kuciak.

"Since the lawyers of the accused also have access to the investigation files, it cannot be concealed that Marian Kocner is a suspect," Daniel Lipsic, a former Slovakian interior minister who is now the Kuciak family's lawyer, told AFP.

Peter Bardy, Kuciak's editor-in-chief at the news website claimed in September 2017 that Kocner had called Kuciak to threaten him.

Public fury at the murder of Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova fo...
Public fury at the murder of Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova forced the government to resign

Kocner, 55, was detained by police in June on suspicion of fraud. He is still in custody, but has not been charged.

The businessman was said to have had ties with members Slovakia's governing Social Democrats, the Smer-SD party.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned Slovak authorities this week that instead of ensuring "police and judicial authorities are operating in a completely independent manner ... the opposite is happening.

"Certain politicians seem to be concerned above all with defending their interests and protecting themselves," RSF added.

Slovakia ranked 27 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling ten places in the past year.

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