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Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico reacts after a meeting of Slovakia’s three top officials at the Bratislava castle, Bratislava, Slovakia March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa


BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was under pressure on Tuesday to agree to an early election after a junior party looked set to abandon his three-party coalition government following mass protests against corruption and the murder of a journalist.

The Most-Hid (Bridge) party, a centrist group representing the ethnic Hungarian minority in Slovakia, said on Monday it would seek a deal with coalition partners about leading the country towards a snap election and would leave the government if no agreement was made.

Slovakia was thrown into crisis after the murder in late February of a journalist investigating corruption. Last week saw the largest street protests since the end of communism nearly three decades ago as anger grows over graft and organisers have promised new demonstrations for Friday.

Mid-way through a third term, Fico is facing calls to quit, a blow to the long-time leader who has sought to stand out from largely eurosceptic leaders in central Europe by pushing the country of 5.4 million closer to the European Union's core.

He was due to respond to Most-Hid's demands on Tuesday.

Fico's other coalition partner, the Slovak National Party (SNS), which has moved from the far-right towards the centre in recent years, said on Tuesday it would only talk with partners about an early election if the government falls or the coalition falls apart. "Any speculation about fixing an election date is premature," it said.

An early election looked more likely now, political analyst Aneta Vilagi said, although a minority government of Fico's Smer and SNS was possible, with the support of independent lawmakers or the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia party.

"Smer may still win the early election despite the loss of some voters but Fico's aggressive communication weakens its coalition potential," she said.

Fico has led the country for 10 of the last 12 years. His coalition with Most-Hid and SNS since the 2016 election holds a majority of 78 seats in the 150-member parliament.

Opposition parties, hoping for an early election, have filed a no-confidence motion against Fico's government. The vote is set for next Monday and they need 76 votes to topple it.

Most-Hid said on Monday it was too early to say how the party would vote on such a motion.

(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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