Pope to give ‘strictly private’ audience to embattled Maltese premier

Pope Francis

Pope Francis is due to welcome Malta’s embattled Premier Joseph Muscat on Saturday for what the Vatican has described as a ‘strictly private’ audience.

Muscat said that he would resign in January after coming under intense pressure over the 2017 murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist who accused his government of corruption.

The Vatican said in a statement. that the Maltese premier would meet the pope with his wife and other relatives.

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Last week, 22 Maltese academics wrote a letter to the Vatican’s ambassador to Malta calling on Francis to cancel a meeting that they described as a “propaganda exercise” for Muscat.

“It is totally unwise, and pastorally undesirable to involve the Holy Father in a propaganda exercise in an attempt to postpone an inevitable outcome,” they said, referring to Muscat’s resignation.

Muscat arrived in Rome on Friday, but cancelled at the last minute a scheduled appearance at MED 2019, a foreign policy conference, and was granted no meeting by his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte.

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The Maltese leader has come under fire over his former chief of staff Keith Schembri, who was accused by a murder investigation suspect of being the ultimate mastermind behind Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

Schembri resigned last week and was questioned by police in connection with the murder case, but was later released without charge.

The Caruana Galizia family and civil society campaigners are crying foul and want Muscat’s immediate resignation.

There have been repeated protests outside the premier’s office to demand this, dpa reported.

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