Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed Sunday he will step down early next year amid growing pressure over the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Muscat said in a statement that he will resign as head of the Labour Party on January 12 so the party can choose a new leader and prime minister, which will take about one month. In the meantime, Muscat said he would continue to serve as prime minister to ensure stability.
“This is what needs to be done,” he said in the statement. “I believe that the trust that you have shown me is still there, and I am leaving with the comfort that this trust is at its best. But this move will guarantee to preserve a legacy of economic growth and social justice without precedent.”
The move follows calls for his resignation from Caruana Galizia’s family and thousands of protesters demonstrating on Sunday after an investigation into the murder revealed close connections between suspects in the case and his top team.
Last week Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the government ministers for tourism and the economy stepped down.
Caruana Galizia, a prominent journalist and blogger, investigated corruption in the highest echelons of Maltese government and society. She was killed in October 2017 after a car bomb detonated outside her home.
Yorgen Fenech, a prominent businessman, was charged Saturday with participating in a criminal organization, complicity in causing an explosion, and complicity in the murder, according to the Guardian.
Earlier on Sunday, the Labour Party released a statement announcing its “full confidence in the Prime Minister” following an emergency meeting of MPs at Muscat’s countryside residence.
In his own statement, Muscat defended his work to ensure that “justice would be done in the case.”
“Every single day of these past two years I have shouldered responsibilities and taken decisions. I made decisions in the best interests for the conclusion of the case and I am convinced that some decisions were good while others could have been better made,” he said.
Muscat added: “Our institutions are strong and they function. Shame on anyone who ridicules them as he or she is ridiculing our country.”