Thousands of people gathered outside Slovakia's parliament to protest against a plan by the new government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to abolish the special prosecutor's office for major crimes and corruption. 

The rally took place as lawmakers were wrapping up debates on this and other proposed changes to the criminal code.  The ruling coalition, which has a majority in parliament, postponed the final vote until Thursday. 

Several people linked to the prime minister's party are on trial for corruption scandals.  Under the plan approved by Fico's coalition government, crimes such as bribery, organized crime and extremism will be handled by prosecutors in regional offices that have not dealt with such crimes for 20 years.

European Union institutions are closely monitoring the planned changes, which include reducing corruption penalties and significantly shortening the statute of limitations.

"He may follow in Orban's footsteps"

President Zuzana Caputova said she is ready to veto the amendment and file a constitutional challenge if the ruling three-party coalition overrides her veto. Opposition parties are also planning to appeal.

Michal Simecka, leader of the liberal Progressive Slovakia, the strongest opposition party, told the crowd, "It is a fact that they are afraid of you. They hope it will all be over tomorrow, but this is just the beginning." 

The pro-Russian and anti-American Fico came to power for a fourth term last year after winning parliamentary elections on September 30. 

Fico's critics worry that Slovakia could abandon its pro-Western course and follow in the footsteps of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.