Malta: Ruling party MPs back PM to stay in power despite protests

Malta: Ruling party MPs back PM to stay in power despite protests

Labour party legislators give 'unanimous support' to embattled PM Joseph Muscat as protesters demand his resignation.

Malta: Ruling party MPs back PM to stay in power despite protests
Thousands took to the streets on Sunday to demand Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to resign [Yara Nardi/Reuters]

Legislators from Malta's ruling party have said they stand by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat despite protests calling for his departure over for his handling of an investigation into the murder of prominent investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago.

After an hours-long meeting on Sunday, the Labour Party's parliamentary group said legislators gave their "unanimous support to all decisions which the prime minister will be taking", according to Reuters News Agency.

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Critics including members of Caruana Galizia's family have accused Muscat, 45, of protecting those involved in the 2016 car-bomb killing of the journalist who exposed cronyism within Malta's political and business elite.

Calls for Muscat to step down grew after the probe into the murder led to charges on Saturday against a prominent businessman with alleged ties to ministers and senior officials.

Yorgen Fenech, 38, was charged with complicity in the murder. He pleaded not guilty to that and other charges.

The prime minister was thought to be preparing to announce his departure but seeking to stay in office until a successor is chosen, according to local media and government officials close to Muscat. Those same sources reportedly said he is likely to stay on until the party holds a leadership election in mid-January.

Fenech was charged after the government turned down his request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing information about the murder plot and about alleged corruption involving Muscat's former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, among others, court filings showed.

Schembri and Mizzi resigned on Tuesday and Schembri was interrogated for two days by police before being released without charge. Schembri has denied any wrongdoing. Mizzi on Tuesday denied any business links with Fenech and any wrongdoing.

Caruana Galizia's family have called for Muscat to step aside and on Sunday Maltese civil society organisations held a protest in the capital, Valetta, demanding his immediate departure.

"This is far from over. 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," activist group Repubblika, one of the organisers of the protest, said on Sunday .

"We must keep up the pressure. The truth is coming out. Now, we must strive for justice," it added.

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