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Slovak Prime Minister seen surviving no-confidence vote

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By Reuters
Slovak Prime Minister seen surviving no-confidence vote
FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 20, 2019. Julien Warnard/Pool via REUTER   -   Copyright  POOL(Reuters)

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini should easily defeat a no-confidence vote on Tuesday, but his government is being increasingly damaged by revelations about the reach of the main suspect in the 2018 murder of a journalist into state offices.

The murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, who uncovered fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova shone a spotlight on corruption in the central European country, sparking the biggest protests since the end of communism in 1989 that shook the political scene.

Five people have been charged with the killings and are awaiting trial, including high-profile businessman Marian Kocner, whose business deals were a subject of Kuciak’s stories.

Any contacts with Kocner, an acquaintance of politicians from various parties, have become toxic in the light of the charges.

Special prosecutors said last month they had been able to extract tens of thousands messages from Kocner’s phone, including communications with “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”.

Slovak media published parts of messages Kocner allegedly exchanged with a woman also charged in the killing and with his business allies, in which they discuss his alleged contacts among the authorities.

Zlatica Kusnirova, mother of Kuciak’s fiancee, and her lawyer Roman Kvasnica have confirmed the authenticity of leaked messages. Kocner’s lawyer did not respond to emailed questions.

Two deputy general prosecutors have been forced to resign since January over their contacts with either Kocner or the charged woman.

A deputy justice minister resigned earlier this month after her mobile phone was seized by the police, but she denied any contacts with Kocner.

Pellegrini is not personally implicated in Kocner’s messages but opposition parties called the no-confidence vote as he refused to remove the deputy justice minister until she was formally charged. They decided to go on with the vote even after her resignation despite lacking the numbers in the 150-member chamber to defeat the prime minister.

The government will face more pressure on Friday when protesters return to the streets, aiming to “support courageous prosecutors and police officers and call for a trustworthy government”, ahead of the February general election.

Ruling Smer is still the strongest party, with around 20 percent in polls thanks to welfare spending and a strong economy. But it has suffered major loses in regional, local, presidential and EU elections in the past 18 months, and a new pro-EU/liberal coalition is catching up in the polls with around 15-percent support.

(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alex Richardson)