Thousands rally in Slovakia to condemn the new government's plan to close top prosecutors' office

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People take part in a protest against scrapping the Special Prosecutor's Office organised by the Slovakian opposition parties in front of the Government Office in Bratislava, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023. (Lukas Grinaj/TASR via AP)

BRATISLAVA – Thousands rallied in the capital and other major cities in Slovakia on Tuesday to denounce a plan by the new government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to amend the country’s penal code.

The changes proposed by the coalition government include a proposal to abolish the special prosecutors' office, which handles serious crimes such as graft, organized crime and extremism, by mid-January, and return those prosecutions to regional offices, which haven't dealt with such crimes for 20 years.

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The noisy but peaceful crowd in Bratislava gathered in front of the government office in a rally organized by several opposition parties, including Progressive Slovakia, the Christian Democrats and Freedom and Solidarity.

”We’ll defend our democracy,” said Michal Simecka, the head of the liberal Progressive Slovakia, the strongest opposition party. Simecka called the proposals “a pro-mafia package.”

“We’ve had enough of Fico,” the people chanted.

Smaller rallies took place in the cities of Kosice, Nitra, Zilina, Banska Bystrica and Poprad.

Richard Sulik, the head of the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity, said that around 1,000 unfinished cases are currently investigated by the special prosecution.

“The proposed changes have a potential to disrupt our legal system,” Sulik said.

President Zuzana Caputova said Friday that the changes go, in her opinion, against the rule of law, and noted that the European Commission also has expressed concerns that the measure is being rushed through.

The legislation approved by Fico’s government on Wednesday needs parliamentary and presidential approval. The three-party coalition has a majority in parliament.

Parliament could start a debate over the plan on Tuesday.

Fico returned to power for the fourth time after his scandal-tainted leftist party won Slovakia’s Sept. 30 parliamentary election on a pro-Russia and anti-American platform.

His critics worry that his return could lead Slovakia to abandon its pro-Western course and instead follow the direction of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Since Fico’s government came to power, some elite investigators and police officials who deal with top corruption cases have been dismissed or furloughed. The planned changes in the legal system also include a reduction in punishments for corruption.

Under the previous government, which came to power in 2020 after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, dozens of senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and businesspeople linked to Fico’s party have been charged and convicted of corruption and other crimes.

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