VALLETTA, Malta – Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told the nation on Sunday night that he would resign in January after pressure from citizens angered by the truth about the car bomb of 2017 that killed a journalist.
In a televised message, Muscat said he informed the Maltese president that he would step down as Labor Party leader on January 12 and "in the days following the resignation of the prime minister."
Hours earlier, thousands of Maltese protested before a court in the capital, Valletta, demanding that he leave office.
"As Prime Minister, I promised two years ago that justice would be done in the case of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia," said Muscat, opening his speech, adding that "today I am here to tell you that I have kept my word."
He noted that in addition to three people arrested shortly after the bombing, there is now "someone accused of being the main person behind this murder."
Muscat was referring to prominent Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech, who on Saturday night was indicted for alleged complicity in the murder and for allegedly organizing and financing the bombing.. Fenech has submitted allegations of innocence.
Muscat's former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was allegedly linked to the murder. Schembri was among the members of the government targeted by Caruana Galizia's investigative reports. Schembri, who resigned last week, was arrested in the investigation but later released. He denies irregularities.
The prime minister insisted on ensuring that "justice is for everyone" and said the investigation is still ongoing.
Labor has a comfortable majority in Parliament, indicating that a new party leader could become first without the need for a national election. Muscat, first elected prime minister in 2013, is serving his second term.
Nearly 20,000 Maltese citizens stoned Republic Street outside the courtroom, which was by far the largest participation so far in weeks of public rage and disgust against the Muscat government.
The dead reporter had written extensively about suspected corruption in political and business circles in the European Union country, which is a financial haven for many investors.
Among his targets were those in Muscat's political circle, including those in his cabinet. Caruana Galizia has been the subject of lawsuits by some of its subjects, including the government. While many celebrated her as an advocate of corruption, some on the island whose relationships she has exposed scorned her work.
"I reiterate my deep regret for a person who, with all his positive and negative qualities and contribution to our country's democracy, was killed so brutally," said Muscat.
"The feelings of genuine sadness and anger over this murder are justified. And I will never accept anyone to convey a signal that he or she is somehow justifying this murder."
Parliamentarians of the European Parliament should visit Malta in the coming days, amid concerns about the rule of law in the island nation of the Mediterranean.
Muscat hit a defensive note.
"Our institutions are strong and they work. Shame on those who ridicule them because they are ridiculing our country."