Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told the nation in a televised address on Sunday that he would resign soon after the Labour Party selects a new leader as his successor by Jan 12, local reports say.
The announcement came just hours after protesters marched through the streets of capital Veletta demanding Muscat’s immediate resignation over the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, above, in 2017.
It also comes a day after businessman Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in the journalist’s murder by a court.
President George Vella has been informed about the transition plan, Muscat said, adding that he always believed a Prime Minister should not serve more than two terms.
Muscat said he kept his word by ensuring justice to Caruana Galizia.
Three people — George, Alfred Degiorgio and Vincent Muscat — who detonated the car bomb that killed her have already been arrested and charged. The criminal mastermind, Fenech, is also behind bars.
The middleman in the murder, Melvin Theuma, was given presidential pardon to help police find the mastermind.
Granting pardon to one and denying the same to another led to severe criticism. But such decisions were taken in the interest of the common good, he said.
One can feel the pain over the murder of a brave journalist in the most brutal way. Public anger is justified to some extent but the violence and disorder that followed are not acceptable.
Caruana Galizia’s murder should not define Malta. This difficult chapter must be closed but not forgotten, Muscat said.
The family of the journalist had a different take. After attending the court hearing on Saturday, they said Muscat must immediately leave office and parliament so as to allow a free and full investigation into his as well as former chief of staff Keith Schembri’s alleged role in Caruana Galizia’s murder.
They believe she was killed for exposing corruption in government. Her reports had linked Panama-based shell companies to powerful Maltese politicians.
Following the reports which formed the basis for Paradise Papers and Panama Papers, the journalist faced threats and legal suits from various quarters.
Although police protection was given to her after 2010, this was gradually withdrawn in the following years. When Labour government came to power in 2013, police protection to her was completely withdrawn citing budgetary constraints.
Despite a request by Caruana Galizia’s family, Muscat’s government did not look into whether total withdrawal of police security led to her murder.
On Sunday, thousands of protesters led by the journalist’s family carried placards that read ‘Joseph Muscat, you have blood on your hands’, ‘The situation is still desperate’, Daphne was right’, ‘Mafia’, and Assassins’.
Civil society groups behind the protest believe there will be no justice so long as Muscat continues as prime minister.
During Saturday’s court hearing, Fenech pleaded not guilty of any role in Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Fenech says Schembri is the real mastermind behind the murder.
His Dubai-based company 17 Black is reported to have transferred money into the secret accounts of Schembri and former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi.
Schembri and Mizzi resigned last week after they were questioned by investigators.