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Chaos in parliament as protest rages in Valletta

Photo: Paul Borg Olivier

Protestors filled Valletta for the sixth time in less than two weeks, moving en masse to Castille Square after they surrounded the parliament building to demand an end to impunity and the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

The crowd was a sea of Maltese flags as blogger and civil society activist Manuel Delia took the stage. “The prince of darkness resigned today,” he said, referring to he resignation and arrest of Keith Schembri, Muscat’s right hand, and the man many believed to be the power behind the throne.

“Muscat wants to stand in the way of justice,” Delia said. “Leave now.”

Pia Zammit, from Occupy Justice, said, “A democracy based on lies is not a democracy. We will defend Malta.. you embarrassed us with the whole world but now the world sees us and sees that we want justice. This is not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning. We increased in numbers, but Joseph we will continue protesting until you leave. Today is unprecedented and will go down in our history books. It is the end of the beginning of a disgusting chapter of our islands.”

“The authorities were trying to make us look the other way and change the narrative and now we know why,” Zammit said. “More importantly Daphne was right and she should be here today to be vindicated applauded and told she was right. She gave up her life for the love of her country. We have work to do. This must never happen again. We must never let ourselves be hijacked again.”

Former radio host David Thake opened his speech by paraphrasing the last published words of Daphne Caruana Galizia.  “There are crooks everywhere you look now… the situation is desperate.”

“Labour’s roadmap was to see how much money they would make or steal,” Thake said. “Daphne uncovered fact after fact that these two thieves in cabinet were being bribed and Muscat stood up for them each time. Who knows how many millions they stole from us in the hospital deal and the deal in Montenegro? We want to know whose Macbridge is,” he added, referring to the other company set up along with Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black to funnel kickbacks to Schembri and Mizzi’s Panama companies. “We want to know if it is Muscat’s.”

“Every deal needs to be investigated,” Thake said. “We want our money back. Those who are responsible, we want them to face justice. Muscat continues to defend them. Just before the police interrogated him, he left Schembri there until the last minute. Cardona was interrogated together with his staff.”

“They killed Daphne because she exposed them.They did not have the guts to face her, but killed her with a bomb, not with a knife or a gun. We want to know what action will be taken against those who knew it was going to happen and didn’t do anything.”

“My appeal goes to genuine Labourites,” Thake said. “They made fun of you. But yours is the last word and you need to turn to them and kick them out. Do not protect them as a Party. You should not defend killers and thieves.”

“Thank Daphne,” Thake said, as the crowd erupted in applause. “She is a formidable journalist and I’m sure she is looking down smiling at seeing these rats running away. Thank this woman who loved this country so much that she paid with her life for bringing out the truth.”

Vicky Ann Cremona took the stage next. “I am jealous of those who egged him today,” she said, referring to the Prime Minister. “All he is is a scared man acting like a bully. We will continue fighting him. They killed Daphne because she was right, and there were people who organized a meal to celebrate it.”

“They made a toilet out of the biggest institution of Malta. Muscat said this morning that he was the only one to provide a stable relationship, and that the institutions are still operating. But these are operating in spite of the corruption and his people. We want him out.”

In a fiery speech, Norman Vella drew cheers from the crowd when he said, “The time has come to start working again for us never to be ashamed of being Maltese. That is the state we are in at the moment. When you see foreign news… they embarrassed us. You betrayed your country. You are traitors. Did Schembri send that message to Fenech from Muscat’s house? There is only one road… justice for all those involved.”

“We want political justice for those who called us names or crazy when we tried to open their eyes,” Vella said. “There were moments over the past two years when we were a few who came on the 16 and a few women who put candles on her vigil, and flowers. These were their weapons to hit the conscience of those who were guilty.”

“Thank you to all those who answered the call for justice and are showing the world that we are not just Joseph or his corrupt people. We are showing them that we are not just the mafia that killed Daphne.”

“This country will change after this moment,” Vella said, “and we need to be cautious and careful. We aren’t here to celebrate a win. We aren’t here to say we were right and others were wrong. There are many who still aren’t with us. These are still honest people and have not done anything wrong.”

“Don’t let Muscat create a fight between us. We should not blame them. They are also victims. They are victims of people who used public funds for corruption and abused their trust. I tell these people, we need you, too. Our country is calling you. Join us. Malta needs all its children to get back on its feet.”

As the protest came to a close, thousands of people held up flags and torches and joined together to sing the national anthem.

Earlier in the evening, shouts of “Barra”, “Murderer”, “Mafia”, “and “Shame on you” filled the air in front of parliament as angry citizens jeered at departing MPs, waving signs reading, “Joseph Muscat you have blood on your hands”. 

Opposition MPs Jason Azzopardi and Karol Aquilina were met with cheers by protestors, while people pushed through the barricades to pelt Muscat and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne with coins and eggs.

The protest, originally scheduled for Wednesday evening, had been moved ahead in the wake of this morning’s resignation and arrest of chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Protestors surrounded parliament an hour before the planned protest as news trickled out during a day of resignations that shocked the nation.

A thick layer of steel barricades kept protestors at a distance and cordoned off a large parking space for MPs cars.

Chaos erupted inside the House of Representatives on Tuesday evening as Nationalist MPs shouted “mafia” and “thieves” across the floor at government MPs. The shouting escalated when Muscat entered the room.

Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela and Anthony Agius Decelis, the Junior Minster for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing, had to be physically restrained by fellow MPs after crossing the floor in response.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia again called for an urgent debate, and for the Prime Minister’s resignation. “This is a constitutional and institutional crisis in the wake of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder and all the related criminal matters,” he said.

Government Whip Byron Camilleri said the motion was out of order because it constituted a vote of confidence. The sitting was suspended by speaker Anglu Farrugia soon after for a ruling. The speaker again denied the Opposition’s call for a debate.

Just prior to the chaos in parliament, Muscat was bundled into his car for the 150m drive between the Office of the Prime Minister at Castille to parliament, pursued by protestors screaming “murderer” and “robber”.

Muscat continues to resists demands for his resignation, calling instead for Labour Party supporters to attend a rally in Zejtun on Sunday. The choice of location was symbolic, as Zejtun was the site of the Tal-Barrani riots in 1986, a violent clash between supporters of the ruling Labour Party government and the Nationalist Party.

Hours later, it was announced that the rally would be held in Fgura’s Hompesch Road, due to logistical issues.

Reactions from abroad continued to flood social media as foreign news sources, from the BBC to Reuters, monitored the rapidly changing events in Malta, the European Union’s smallest member state.

Pieter Omtzigt, Special Rapporteur , expressed satisfaction with the resignation of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Schembri earlier today, but questioned the Prime Minister’s role in protecting the two men for nearly three years.

“By resigning today, Messrs Schembri, Mizzi and Cardona have (finally) taken political responsibility for their situations,” he said. “Their resignations raise further, even more urgent questions for Prime Minister Muscat. Does the head of government bear no political responsibility for allowing these three to stay in government for so long, despite the ever-strengthening suspicions against them?”

Omtzigt also questioned whether Muscat was himself culpable in the journalist’s assassination, stating, “If the Panama Papers had been investigated and Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi been asked to resign three years ago, would Daphne Caruana Galizia still be alive today?”

Konrad Mizzi

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi resigns, Economy Minister Cardona ‘suspends himself’

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

That final blog post