March 20, 2018 / 10:44 AM / a month ago

Slovak PM-designate reworks cabinet list after president rejects proposals

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s prime minister-designate Peter Pellegrini was forced to rework his cabinet list on Tuesday after the president called for more government changes to calm a crisis brought on by the murder of a journalist.

FILE PHOTO: President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska designates Peter Pellegrini for the new Slovak prime minister, at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/David W. Cerny

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand a new election and guarantees of a fair investigation into last month’s killing of Jan Kuciak, 27, who probed fraud cases involving businessmen with political ties.

The outcry led long-serving Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign last week to keep the three-party government afloat and avoid an election mid-way through its term.

He proposed his Smer party colleague and deputy prime minister Pellegrini take his place.

But Pellegrini is under pressure from protesters and President Andrej Kiska to pick a non-partisan official as interior minister, who would oversee the police. Kiska rejected his first proposal on Tuesday.

“I will deliver to the president a proposal for a government make-up tomorrow (Wednesday) that will include some changes,” Pellegrini said. “This proposal won’t be a surprise for him, I have discussed it with the president in person.”

Pellegrini said he aimed to have a government in place by Friday. Kiska’s office said the president would meet some ministerial candidates on Wednesday.

The next interior minister will replace Fico’s closest ally, Robert Kalinak, who has served in the job in three different Fico-led governments but resigned over the crisis. Kalinak has been the subject of reports by Kuciak. He has denied wrongdoing.

“(Pellegrini) has to create a stable government, whose composition, especially at the Interior Ministry, will be able to calm the tense atmosphere in our society,” Kiska said.

Kuciak’s case, only the fifth such killing of a journalist or journalists in the European Union in the past decade, remains unsolved and police have not charged anyone over the shooting. He was killed with his fiancee in their home.

The protests, each Friday evening for the past three weeks, have been the largest in Slovakia since the overthrow of communism almost three decades ago. Another protest is planned for this Friday, in the capital Bratislava and other cities.

The president met protest organisers on Tuesday.

“As president I seek to take steps in line with the constitution so we can begin the process of regaining people’s trust in the state. It will be a long process and it won’t be easy, possibly painful, but we have to start it,” Kiska said.

Pellegrini first nominated as interior minister Jozef Raz, chief of staff at the Health Ministry, but will instead put forward Tomas Drucker, a former postal service chief who was brought in as a crisis manager to lead the Health Ministry.

Fico was prime minister for 10 of the last 12 years during a time of fast economic growth. He positioned Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million people which has been an EU member since 2004, as a pro-European bastion in a eurosceptic region.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, Additional reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka, Writing by Jason Hovet, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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