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Slovak minister quits, police chief stays amid anger over journalist's murder

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Interior Minister Tomas Drucker resigned on Monday after just three weeks in office, saying he could not square public demands for the sacking of the country’s top policeman with what he said was a lack of evidence against him.

Tens of thousands of Slovaks have joined the country’s biggest demonstrations in decades after February’s killing of journalist Jan Kuciak, who had focused on corruption in business and politics.

The rallies forced the resignation of long-serving prime minister Robert Fico last month, along with the entire cabinet including his long-term ally Robert Kalinak as interior minister.

The three-party coalition led by Fico’s Smer party formed a new cabinet in which Drucker, a political independent, took the Interior Ministry but quickly became the second chief of the department to fall over the scandal.

Fico remains the leader of Smer, maintaining strong political influence from outside the cabinet.

Protesters say the changes have not been deep enough and police chief Tibor Gaspar should also quit. Speakers at rallies across the EU country in recent weeks have criticised him for ineffectiveness in prosecuting corruption.

Drucker said he had found no grounds to fire the police chief and had not asked him to resign.

“I don’t think it would be right for me to directly fire Gaspar (despite) the polarisation he’s causing. If I should increase the polarisation instead of neutralising it, I have no right to remain as minister,” Drucker told reporters.

The former health minister said he would leave politics altogether.


President Andrej Kiska, a long-time adversary of Fico, said when appointing the new cabinet last month that he had agreed with Drucker that a change in the police leadership was needed.

Gaspar has won the backing of new Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini who said on the weekend he was a top professional.

“It’s the minister who appoints and removes the police chief but it’s not entirely up to him, the decision is usually a result of political negotiations,” political analyst Martin Slosiarik said.

“Robert Fico, whose Smer party has been losing voter support in past weeks, is gesturing towards his core voters who want to see him as a strong leader not bowing to pressure.”

Gaspar said he was surprised by Drucker’s resignation and would evaluate the situation.

People on the streets have demanded the police chief’s removal as an assurance that Kuciak’s murder will be investigated thoroughly. They see Gaspar as too close to Smer and Kalinak.

Some of Kuciak’s reporting dealt with deals between the government and Slovakia’s biggest privately-owned security firm, whose owner is related to Gaspar. The police chief has denied any wrongdoing.

No senior Slovakian politician has gone to prison for corruption in the past decade, according to Transparency International. The special prosecutor in charge of cases of alleged abuse of power among public servants and politicians personally oversaw 61 cases from 2009 to 2017 but did not press criminal charges in any.

But in a case handled by another prosecutor last year, two ex-ministers were sentenced to nine and 12 years for rigging a public tender in 2007. Both remain free pending appeal.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Andrew Roche