Thousands protest in Slovakia against a government plan to amend the penal code

The changes proposed by the three-party coalition government include abolishing the special prosecutors’ office, which handles serious crimes such as graft, organized crime and extremism.

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Those cases would be taken over by prosecutors in regional offices, which haven’t dealt with such crimes for 20 years.

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About 20,000 protesters condemned the plan at a central square in Bratislava, according to police cited by local media.

Michal Šimecka, head of the liberal Progressive Slovakia, the strongest opposition party, was one of them.

“You’re making the same mistake as any other unsuccessful dictator,” Šimecka said in a message to Fico.

“You underestimate the desire of people for freedom and justice,” Šimecka said.

“Mafia, mafia,” and “We’ve had enough of Fico,” the crowd repeatedly chanted.

The legislation approved by Fico’s government needs parliamentary and presidential approval. The three-party coalition has a majority to override an expected veto by President Zuzuana Caputová.

Caputová said she was also willing to use a constitutional challenge to the legislation. It’s unclear how the Constitutional Court might rule.

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.

From the first relatively small protest of several hundred on December 7 in Bratislava, the anti-government rallies have spread to 19 towns and cities. (AP) TIR TIR

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