BRATISLAVA – Thousands of Slovaks protested on Wednesday in the latest of a string of rallies against plans by Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government to lower punishments for corruption and scrap a prosecution office that probes high-profile crimes.

Crowds filled a square outside the parliament building in Bratislava as deputies neared a vote – expected on Thursday – on the legislation that the opposition says will grant indemnity to corrupt politicians and businessmen with links to the ruling parties.

“This sausage is mouldy,” opposition Christian Democrats leader Milan Majersky told the crowd of the reform. “We need a proper expert debate… The government must start listening to people, even those who have different opinion.”

Fico’s leftist government says its planned reforms – which would significantly reduce sentences for corruption, limit protection for whistle-blowers and shorten statutes of limitations – are necessary to modernise the criminal code and end what it calls excesses at the Special Prosecution Office.

The plan, and the fact that it is being pushed through in a fast-track procedure, has raised warnings from the European Union and United States.

If the European Commission found the reform causing inadequate protection of EU money, it could freeze payments of EU funds to Slovakia – a step it has taken against Hungary.

Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova has said the reforms put EU funds at risk and has described the efforts to speed through the changes as unprecedented. She said she would veto the legislation and turn to the Constitutional Court if her veto is overturned.

The government has said it was consulting the EU on the reform and may still fine-tune some of the changes.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office opened a number of cases against business leaders, members of the judiciary and police following a 2020 election victory by parties promising to fight graft.

In opposition at the time, Fico himself faced police charges which were later dropped.

Under the new reform, cases handled by the special prosecution would be handed to other prosecution branches. REUTERS

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