Daphne Caruana Galizia: Malta prime minister Joseph Muscat to resign in new year
Joseph Muscat has been in office six years
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced on national TV that he will step down in the new year, amid a crisis over a murdered journalist.
He said he would ask the ruling Labour Party to begin the process to choose his successor on 12 January.
Demonstrators have demanded his immediate resignation over the inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death.
She was killed by a car bomb in 2017 as she investigated corruption among Malta’s business and political elite.
A businessman with alleged links to government officials was charged with complicity in the murder on Saturday.
Explaining his decision to quit, Mr Muscat said of the way the murder inquiry had been handled: “Some decisions were good while others could have been better made.”
“All the responsibility I had to shoulder surely does not compare to the pain that the victim’s family is enduring,” he added.
When will Muscat step down exactly?
He said he would resign as leader of the Labour Party on 12 January and as prime minister “in the days after”.
Mr Muscat has been in power for six years, winning two elections by a landslide and presiding over a period of prosperity and social reform in the EU’s smallest member state.
“Malta needs to start a new chapter and only I can give that signal,” Mr Muscat said.
He took the decision after a four-hour meeting with Labour’s parliamentary group, at which MPs gave “unanimous support to all decisions which the Prime Minister will be taking”.
Why do protesters want Muscat to go now?
A large crowd of protesters earlier rallied in the capital Valletta to demand Mr Muscat’s immediate resignation.
Copies of a photo showing Mr Muscat’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, alongside Melvin Theuma, an alleged middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder, were pinned to the gates of the building.
Fury over Mr Muscat’s handling of the crisis grew this weekend when businessman Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in the murder, an allegation he denies.
Mr Fenech was identified last year as being the owner of a mysterious Dubai-registered company, 17 Black, listed in the Panama Papers – a massive leak of documents from an offshore law firm in 2016.
There were allegations that 17 Black planned to make secret payments to companies set up by Mr Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.
Both men resigned this week but deny any wrongdoing, and Mr Mizzi has denied any business links to Mr Fenech.
Three other men are in custody charged with Caruana Galizia’s actual murder, which involved a car bomb.