Bratislava (AFP) – Slovakia’s police chief refused to quit on Friday, a day after tens of thousands of protesters demanded his ouster, as he questioned the president’s motives for backing calls for his departure.
Protests against national police commander Tibor Gaspar have mounted in the wake of the February murder of a journalist probing corruption, with critics alleging that political connections prevent him from guaranteeing a fair and thorough investigation. Gaspar has flatly denied having any bias.
“No-one in the government has asked me to step down. The issue of my future, as well as the future of the police corps, will be decided soon,” Gaspar told local media Dennik N, echoing Interior Minister Tomas Drucker who said Friday make a decision “within a couple of days”.
The police commander is due to step down by the autumn under reforms adopted before Kuciak’s murder.
The EU member state of 5.4 million was plunged into political crisis after the February killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, who had been probing alleged ties between top politicians and the Italian mafia.
The killing and Kuciak’s article, published after he and his fiancee were found shot dead, raised fresh concern about media freedom and corruption and sparked a wave of protests that forced the government to resign.
Tens of thousands of Slovakians rallied across the country on Thursday calling for Gaspar to go too, with around 30,000 protestors turning out turned out in the capital Bratislava.
President Andrej Kiska, a liberal who is at odds with the populist left-wing government, has backed protestors’ demands.
But Gaspar shot back on Friday, accusing Kiska of a possible conflict of interest as he revealed that Slovakia’s NAKA elite police unit was investigating an alleged tax offence by a company allegedly associated with the millionaire president.
“NAKA is looking into about five different allegations concerning this company and criminal prosecution has been launched in two of the cases,” Gaspar told the commercial Radio Aktual broadcaster.
Kiska’s spokesman Roman Krpelan told AFP on Friday that “the police led by Tibor Gaspar has become part of a political struggle and, on the other hand, it failed to protect the life of journalist Jan Kuciak, who had asked to investigate threats against his person.”