Malta’s new leader takes office amid demands for truth

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The new Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela salutes the crowd as he walks out of the Presidential palace in Valletta, Malta, after the swear-in ceremony, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Abela is replacing Joseph Muscat after weeks of protests demanding accountability in the investigation of the car bomb slaying of an anti-corruption journalist who targeted his government. (AP Photo/Rene’ Rossignaud)

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VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Malta’s new prime minister has been sworn into office, replacing Joseph Muscat who stepped down after public protests related to the murder of an anti-corruption journalist.

Robert Abela took the oath of office Monday and kissed a crucifix in the traditionally Roman Catholic country. Abela is a first-term lawmaker whose father George Abela was a former president of the small Mediterraneean island nation.

Among onlookers was Muscat, who resigned amid anger over links between his government and those under investigation in the 2017 car bomb assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

She had been investigating offshore companies linked to politicians close to Muscat. Her work targeted members of his government.

In the run-up to the Labour Party election on Saturday to determine Muscat’s successor both as party leader and prime minister, Robert Abela pledged to repair Malta’s reputation. European Union lawmakershave raised questions over Malta’s adherence to rule of law and recommended reform of its judicial and police systems.

Among those under investigation for the murder, according to Maltese prosecutors, is Muscat’s former chief of staff, who denies any involvement. A Maltese casino owner has been arraigned for alleged complicity in the murder, an accusation he denies. Three men were arrested in the weeks after the bombing as the suspects of the actual bombing.

A European Parliament member who has kept a close watch on Malta, especially on issues related to money laundering and corruption, noted that Abela had served as a legal advisor to Muscat.

In an emailed comment, Sven Giegold said the new prime minister’s prospects of initiating a “political restart in Malta” would only be possible if “he clearly distances himself from the old system of corruption and clientelism. ”

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