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Slovak president reluctantly appoints new interior minister, protests to resume

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak President Andrej Kiska named a leading ruling party figure as the new interior minister on Thursday despite his reservations amid public calls for an independent to guarantee a fair inquiry into the murder of an investigative journalist.

FILE PHOTO: Slovak President Andrej Kiska (R) designates Peter Pellegrini as the new prime minister in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/David W. Cerny/File Photo

Tens of thousands of Slovaks have protested since the killing of Jan Kuciak as he was looking into alleged corrupt links between politicians and businessmen. The protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico and the formation of a new cabinet by the same three-party coalition, with senior Smer member Peter Pellegrini becoming prime minister.

Kiska was effectively forced to appoint deputy interior minister Denisa Sakova to the top post after she was nominated by the ruling Smer party under Fico, who remains party chief. Sakova has worked at the ministry for 10 of the past 12 years, most recently as deputy interior minister.

“I will try to restore public trust in police that is currently missing,” Sakova, who has overseen big IT projects at the interior ministry, told journalists after being sworn in.

The mass demonstrations also forced the resignation of Fico’s interior minister Robert Kalinak, and he was replaced in the cabinet reshuffle by non-partisan Tomas Drucker, but the latter resigned last week.

Kiska, who had refused to appoint another Kalinak co-worker as interior minister in the cabinet shuffle last month, said on Tuesday that Sakova’s nomination was a wasted opportunity to restore public trust but that he had no constitutional power to stop it.

Smer’s nomination of Sakova disappointed protesters, who have called a new rally on Friday to demand an early election. Organizers said they had already collected 80,000 signatures under the petition for early polls.

Kuciak, 27, was shot dead along with his fiancée at home in February in what investigators suspect was a professional hit.

His last story, published posthumously, investigated links between Italian businessmen in Slovakia, one of whom has since been charged in cases involving drug trafficking in Italy and abuse of EU subsidies in Slovakia, and two Slovaks who later went on to work in Fico’s government office.

All have denied any wrongdoing.

The new interior minister will appoint a police chief to replace Tibor Gaspar, who will step down next month in the face of public pressure.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Mark Heinrich