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Thousands attend protest vigils for slain Slovak journalist

People place light tributes during a silent protest in memory of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova in Bratislava

Bratislava, Slovakia | AFP | Thousands flocked to candlelit anti-corruption protests and memorials held across Slovakia on Friday for murdered journalist Jan Kuciak, killed as he was about to publish an explosive report on alleged high-level political corruption linked to the Italian mafia.

Organisers estimated that around 25,000 people gathered in the capital Bratislava, while thousands showed in a dozen other cities and towns across the EU country of 5.4 million people.

Many held candles, marching in silence in sub-zero weather.

“I’m standing here with you today to pay tribute to two young people, Jan and Martina,” Slovak President Andrej Kiska said, addressing the crowd in central Bratislava before holding a minute of silence for Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova who was also gunned down.

Police found the two 27-year-olds shot dead at their home near the capital Bratislava on Sunday.

Kuciak was about to publish an article that raised possible political links between Italian businessmen operating in Slovakia and Calabria’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia.

“We live in a mafia state,” student Jan Kubis told AFP. “They were not much older than I am. Something must change in Slovakia.”

Slovak police on Thursday detained several Italian businessmen named by Kuciak in his explosive report, which was published posthumously earlier this week, as investigators said his death was “most likely” linked to his reporting.

– ‘Tears, anger and fear’ –

“On Monday morning, my colleagues had tears, anger and fear in their eyes, and journalists were happy to show their determination to work further,” Lukas Fila, director of N Press publishers, told protesters.

“We have to show that the public will insist on investigating this tragedy.”

Beata Baloghova, editor-in-chief Slovakia’s leading SME broadsheet daily, called the murder “an attack on our ability to control politicians.”

Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary-general said that “tonight Bratislava is the world capital of press freedom,” after having held talks with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico earlier in the day.

Deloire told AFP he had asked Fico, a leftist who does not shy away from using populist rhetoric, to “clearly express his regrets” for having publicly insulted journalists, something the RSF chief called “dangerous”.

Fico’s office later issued a statement saying that there was “no call on the PM to apologise to journalists”, denying Deloire’s claim.

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