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Protesters gather in Valletta for the third time in less than a week

Thousands of protestors gathered in Valletta for the third time in less than a week, packing Castille Square on Friday evening to call for the resignations of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.

The protest was organised by civil society groups Repubblika and Occupy Justice.

Blogger and activist Manuel Delia was the first to take the stage, calling for an end to political interference in the Daphne Caruana murder investigation. He appealed for calm, and thanked the police officers who were gathered around the square for protecting them.

Ann Demarco of Occupy Justice delivered a blistering speech, and Marion Pace Axiak of Repubblika spoke of the importance of finding out the motive for the journalist’s murder, and not just the details of how it was done.

Norman Vella then stepped up to read out emails from the Panama Papers that exposed NexiaBT’s  efforts to set up offshore companies for Schembri and Mizzi soon after the 2013 election.

When the last speaker had left the stage, the shouts and applause died down, and the crowd sang the national anthem in a sea of banners and Maltese flags, facing a giant poster with the faces of Muscat, Schembri and Mizzi beneath the word ‘Mafia’.

Tonight’s gathering was called two days after a similar protest on Wednesday that began in front of Castille demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation, and ended up with the crowd surrounding Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s car outside Parliament, calling for justice and an end to impunity.

Wednesday’s protest was announced after media reports revealed that Fenech, the owner of 17 Black, had been stopped by the Armed Forces of Malta while attempting to leave the island on his luxury yacht Gio. He had left Portomaso Marina before dawn, less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister announced that he promised a conditional presidential pardon to a person suspected of acting as a middleman in Caruana Galizia’s murder.

Fenech’s company 17 Black was set up in Dubai to pay kickbacks to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, according to leaked emails.

Fenech was released on police bail on Thursday night but rearrested this morning after police conducted a search of his residence. Meanwhile, the suspected middleman admitted himself to hospital complaining of medical issues.

Fenech’s arrest on Wednesday triggered the first protest, with the crowd growing larger and larger as they walked through Valletta. Protestors eventually gathered outside Parliament, shouting at members of parliament who were exiting the building, and surrounded Bonnici’s car as he tried to leave.

Joseph Muscat has resisted calls for his resignation and for the dismissal of his Chief of Staff, saying the arrest of Fenech was evidence that the country’s institutions were working. He added that, “until now” there was nothing to indicate any politicians were implicated in the journalist’s murder.

Earlier today, the Caruana Galizia family called on the Prime Minister to step back from the investigation in order to ensure that justice was served, a call supported by Special Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pieter Omtzigt who, in a series of tweets, said Muscat should be distancing himself from the investigation.

The Wednesday protest came less than one week after a huge crowd filled the streets of Valletta demanding the resignation of Schembri after he withdrew a libel case that he had filed against former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil to avoid being cross-examined on 17 Black.

Fenech was a shareholder and director in Electrogas, the company that built and runs the new Delimara power plant, but he resigned from that post and from his role as head of the Tumas Group, handing control of Tumas over to his brother Franco just days before his arrest.

Electrogas entered into an 18-year agreement with the Azerbaijani State-owned company SOCAR to supply Enemalta with liquefied natural gas and electricity for the project. It later emerged that Malta was paying twice the market price for this gas.

Who’s watching the watcher?

‘Impunity in any society erodes the rule of law’ – GRECO Executive Secretary