March 14, 2018 / 8:52 PM / 4 days ago

Slovak Prime Minister Fico quits, deputy to form new government

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s president accepted Prime Minister Robert Fico’s resignation on Thursday and asked his deputy to form a new government, as political leaders tried to ease a crisis provoked by the murder of a journalist.

The killing of 27-year-old reporter Jan Kuciak, who investigated fraud involving businessmen with political ties, has fuelled public anger over corruption and led to the biggest protests in the central European nation since the fall of communism nearly three decades ago.

Facing calls for early elections, the three-party coalition government agreed on Wednesday that Fico would resign, provided that President Andrej Kiska allowed the outgoing prime minister’s Smer party to pick his successor.

Kiska has battled with Fico in the crisis and had urged a government revamp or early election to restore public trust.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico reacts after a meeting of Slovakia’s three top officials at the Bratislava castle, Bratislava, Slovakia March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

On Thursday Kiska asked Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini to form a new government.

Fico has tried to keep the coalition government together halfway through its term rather than call early elections, which a junior government party had demanded on Monday.

The crisis in the Slovakia - a member of the European Union, the euro zone and NATO - has tarnished Fico, who has led for 10 of the last 12 years and had sought to stand out from more eurosceptic leaders elsewhere in central Europe.

Slovakia’s economy has grown rapidly in the last decade since he has been in office but many fault Fico for not clamping down harder on corruption and cronyism.

No one has been charged over the killing of Kuciak, who was found shot dead at home with his fiancée in late February.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Additional reporting by Robert Muller in Prague; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Hugh Lawson and David Stamp

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