April 5, 2018 / 5:33 PM / in 9 months

Slovaks again protest over journalist's murder, demand sacking of police chief

BRATISLAVA, April 5 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Slovaks rallied on Thursday, calling for the ousting of the police chief, in one of the largest demonstrations since protests started last month over the murder of an investigative journalist.

The central European country of 5.4 million was shaken by the killing of reporter Jan Kuciak, 27, who probed corruption cases often involving politically-connected businessmen.

No-one has been charged in the case in which Kuciak was found shot dead at home with his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, in late February.

The case has fanned persistent corruption allegations and sparked the biggest protests since the fall of communism in 1989, leading to the resignation of long-serving prime minister Robert Fico.

Police did not provide any crowd figures but news website Dennik N estimated up to 45,000 people filled the centre of the capital, Bratislava, on Thursday. An estimated 50,000 people protested in March, just before Fico bowed to pressure and resigned to save his three-party government.

Fico picked his deputy, Peter Pellegrini, to lead a reshuffled cabinet that was sworn-in on March 22.

Protest organisers are demanding police president Tibor Gaspar be removed and legislation be changed to keep the government’s interior minister from handpicking a successor to ensure an impartial investigation of Kuciak’s murder.

Police have said the murder was likely connected to his work, and a prosecutor has described it as a contract killing.

Kuciak reported on suspected tax fraud, sometimes involving businessmen with links to the ruling Smer party. He and other Slovak media have also reported on deals between the government and the country’s biggest privately-owned security firm, whose owner is related to Gaspar. The police chief has denied any wrongdoing.

Before his death, Kuciak was also preparing a story, which was published posthumously, looking at Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia with suspected mafia links, one of whom had had business dealings with two people who later worked in Fico’s office before resigning in the wake of the murder.

The two have denied any links to the killing.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova Editing by Andrew Bolton

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