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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers have asked for "protection" when they visit Malta this week to probe accusations of high-level corruption on the island, citing death threats made against some members of the EU parliament.
The legislature passed a motion this month voicing concerns about democracy and the rule of law in the EU's smallest state, following the killing of a journalist who had accused some political leaders of graft and money laundering. A group of seven MEPs will visit Malta on Thursday and Friday.
In a letter seen by Reuters, Manfred Weber, the German leader of the centre-right bloc, wrote to European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Wednesday asking him to "remind the Maltese authorities of their duty to protect" the delegation and "allow them to carry out their duty free from fear".
The stark terms of the letter underscored the depth of feeling in Brussels about recent developments in Malta. It also reflected Tajani's call on Monday for the Polish government to ensure the safety of MEPs after a far-right protest there over an EU parliament motion about democracy in Poland.
Centre-left Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says Malta does not tolerate crime and promised justice for the murdered journalist, who had levelled personal accusations against him as well as against members of the centre-right opposition party.
Sven Giegold, a German member of the EU parliament's Greens party and a leading campaigner on financial crime who will be part of the delegation, told Reuters he was not very worried but added: "I hope the security will be guaranteed."
Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, wrote that there were "serious concerns" about the independence of the Maltese police and referred to MEPs being "threatened with their lives for speaking out in defence of the rule of law in Malta".
One of his group's members, Maltese centre-right MEP Roberta Metsola, has faced public death threats on social media after speaking on the issue, parliamentary officials said.
Maltese government officials and parliament speaker Tajani did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alison Williams)