Undermined by the murder investigation, the Malta leader says he will resign in January

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VALLETTA, Malta – destabilized by an increasingly extensive investigation into the murder of Malta's best-known journalist in 2017, the prime minister of the Mediterranean island nation announced on Sunday that he would resign, but would not leave office until January, after a uproar over the possible role of close partners in the murder.

The announcement of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat came a few hours after thousands of protesters gathered in the Maltese capital, Valletta, to demand his immediate resignation. It was the largest of a series of demonstrations in recent days triggered by suspicions that senior officials knew in advance about the plot to kill the journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, and then tried to cover it up.

The protesters, singing "murderers, murderers,quot; and "the fault is yours,quot;, marched along the main shopping street of the old capital to the courthouse where, on Saturday, a prominent local businessman, Yorgen Fenech, was accused of complicity In the murder. of the journalist and other crimes related to the murder.

Caruana Galizia, who was loved by some and hated by others for her reports, a mixture of royal firsts and rugged personal attacks, was killed in October 2017 by a bomb placed in her car that, detonated by a cell phone, exploded when she He was moving away from his family's house.

A slow-moving investigation into the murder suddenly accelerated last week and reached the highest levels of government. Mr. Muscat's chief of staff, Keith Schembri, an old friend of the indicted businessman on Saturday, resigned on Tuesday. He was investigated by investigators who investigated the murder, but was later released.

Mr. Muscat's tourism minister, Konrad Mizzi, also resigned, and the economy minister, Christian Cardona, said he would suspend his duties until the murder investigation was completed.

The three men had been subjected to withering criticism and personal attacks by Caruana Galizia before they killed her. Schembri and Mizzi were owners of offshore companies created to receive money from a mysterious company known as 17 Black that had been registered in the name of Mr. Fenech, the businessman and principal suspect in the murder case.

Prime Minister Muscat, in a televised speech to the nation on Sunday night, said he regretted his mistakes and acknowledged that "I am not perfect." But he said he would delay his departure "to ensure stability."

Simon Busuttil, a former opposition leader who participated in Saturday’s protest, said Muscat’s announcement that he would leave office after his ruling Labor Party selected a new leader on January 12 “was not enough.”

"He must leave now," he added.

At the protest, Eve Borg Bonello, a teenage anti-government activist who spoke at the demonstration earlier, sparked applause when she shouted: "Joseph, your time is over now." Many stirred photographs of the murdered journalist or signs in homage. to his work exposing corruption. "Daphne, you were right!" Said one.