Daphne Caruana Galizia: Protests grip Malta as PM defies calls to quit

Protesters in Valetta, Malta, 1 December
Protesters gathered in Valletta on Sunday

Demonstrators are rallying in the Maltese capital Valletta to demand justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist murdered in 2017.

Gathering outside parliament, they marched under pictures of the victim, and demanded Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s immediate resignation.

A businessman with alleged links to government officials has been charged with complicity in the murder.

But MPs from the ruling Labour Party gave Mr Muscat their unanimous support.

Mr Muscat’s Economy Minister, Chris Cardona, was also reinstated on Sunday after suspending himself on Tuesday after he was questioned by police. He denies any wrongdoing.

Nonetheless, there is speculation that Mr Muscat may announce his resignation, staying on as caretaker prime minister until January, unnamed government officials told Reuters news agency.

Mr Muscat has been in power for six years, winning two elections by a landslide and presiding over a period of prosperity and social reform in the EU’s smallest member state.

Why do they want Muscat to go?

A large crowd of protesters rallied outside the law courts building where a stage had been erected.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference after an urgent Cabinet meeting at the Auberge de Castille in Valletta, Malta November 29, 2019
Image captionJoseph Muscat has been in office six years

Copies of a photo showing Mr Muscat’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, alongside Melvin Theuma, an alleged middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder, were pinned to the gates of the building.

Fury over Mr Muscat’s handling of the crisis grew this weekend when businessman Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in the murder, an allegation he denies.

Mr Fenech was identified last year as being the owner of a mysterious Dubai-registered company, 17 Black, listed in the Panama Papers – a massive leak of documents from an offshore law firm in 2016.

There were allegations that 17 Black planned to make secret payments to companies set up by Mr Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

Media captionPaul Caruana Galizia says his mother’s critics investigated her murder

Both men resigned this week but deny any wrongdoing, and Mr Mizzi has denied any business links to Mr Fenech.

Three other men are in custody charged with Caruana Galizia’s actual murder, which involved a car bomb.

The murdered journalist’s family say the prime minister has been left deeply compromised and should resign because he failed, for the past two years, to take action to clean up politics in Malta.

They argue that as long as he remains in place, a full investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death is not possible.

demonstrators in Valletta
Image captionDemonstrators want Mr Muscat to step down

“This is far from over,” activist group Repubblika, one of the organisers of the protest, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“This is just the beginning. Joseph Muscat is still put, still protecting his best friend Keith Schembri. Because by protecting Schembri, Muscat is protecting himself.”

What will Muscat do now?

After meeting for four hours, Labour’s parliamentary group released a statement saying that MPs gave “unanimous support to all decisions which the Prime Minister will be taking”.

It is believed that a date for the prime minister’s resignation was discussed at the meeting.

“His exit has been on the cards for a while and he feels that now is the best time to bow out and allow fresh blood to take up on the extremely positive results delivered by Joseph Muscat in the six years at the helm,” a senior Labour source told AFP news agency.

What do we know about the murder inquiry?

Three men – brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio and their friend Vincent Muscat, all in their 50s – have been charged with triggering the bomb which killed Caruana Galizia near her home in October 2017.

They were arrested in December 2017 and pleaded not guilty in pre-trial proceedings.

A collect photograph from 1989 of Peter and Daphne Caruana Galizia with their sons (L-R) Matthew, Andrew and Paul
Image captionCaruana Galizia (pictured in 1989) was survived by her husband and children

Vincent Muscat later told police the bomb had been placed in Caruana Galizia’s car while it was parked outside the walled compound where she lived. The killings earned the trio 150,000 euros (¬£132,000), Reuters news agency reports.

The journalist had sought to expose corruption within Malta’s political and business elite.

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