Slovak journalist murder trial hearings postponed over coronavirus moves

FILE PHOTO: Miroslav Marcek walks inside the courtroom at a preliminary hearing as he and other defendants appear on charges of ordering and carrying out the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, in Pezinok, Slovakia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - A Slovak court has postponed hearings into the 2018 murder of a journalist, which led to protests that brought down the government, because of measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

The Specialised Court said on Thursday it had postponed hearings that had been scheduled for March 17 with former soldier Miroslav Marcek, 37, who last December pleaded guilty to involvement in the contract killing.

Hearings with other three defendants, which had been scheduled for March 18 and 19, have also been postponed, it said.

The trial with Marcek will resume on March 26 and 31 and the trial with businessman Marian Kocner, charged with ordering the murder, and two other people in mid-April, the court said.

The murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova in February 2018 triggered a wave of mass protests that forced Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign.

His center-left party Smer remained in power for another two years but lost a parliamentary election on Feb. 29 to the anti-corruption Ordinary People (OLANO) that is now trying to form a four-party center-right coalition.

The government banned mass public events on Monday in efforts to prevent the new coronavirus spreading. The country had 16 cases of the disease as of Thursday.

Besides the ban on all cultural, sporting and public events, the government imposed a 14-day quarantine on people returning from the worst-hit Italy, China, South Korea and Iran.

Reporting by Tomas Mrva, Editing by Timothy Heritage