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Parliament under siege as protestors turn the tables on MPs

Citizens barricaded in Freedom Square that hosts the parliament building designed as an open space for public participation by Renzo Piano after more than a week of protests demanding Joseph Muscat leaves office immediately.

Citizens gathered in front of parliament again on Monday night. And if Joseph Muscat thinks he’s wearing them down after more than a week of near-daily protests, he must have been in for a surprise. Far from dissipating, their anger is reaching new heights.

Valletta has begun to resemble a fortification, but not the one built by the Knights to defend it against Ottoman armies. This version of the city, with its interlocked layers of steel barricades around parliament and Castille, is meant to shield politicians from the irate citizens who are demanding an end to the impunity of this government, and an end to the reign of a Prime Minister who just won’t leave.

The crowd erupted with cries of “Mafia!” and “Assassin!” as MPs filed in the front door in a group, led by police who look increasingly uncomfortable.

All three of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sons were present at the protest, as whistles and drums echoed through Freedom Square as people banged on kitchen pots and chanted in an effort to disrupt the sitting of a parliament that has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens it was elected to represent.

They fired up the speakers, blasting ‘Vaffanculo’ (fuck you), a pop song by Marco Masini that has become one of the unofficial anthems of these protests. Everyone joined in for the chorus, shouting “vaffanculo” (fuck you) at the politicians who they see as failing the country in its moment of need.

Soon after, members of the Opposition walked out after throwing fake €5,000 notes — printed with the faces of Schembri, Muscat and Mizzi — towards government benches. The amount represents the daily kickbacks from Dubai companies 17 Black and Macbridge to the former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and former Minister Konrad Mizzi, who still remain close to the centre of power.

Tensions increased when groups of protestors rushed through the mall and reclaimed the public space which belongs to the people, blocking all exits and preventing Muscat and his entire parliamentary group from leaving. The politicians were now fenced in by the barricades they erected to keep the citizens out.

As the Ministers remained trapped in the lobby, a voice in the crowd was overheard saying, “Does someone have a football so we could throw it in for them to play?”, referring to the blockaded area which was the size of a football pitch.

They chanted, “Out of there Joey, you’re mafia!” and one person was heard shouting, “Not coming out! Does Joey want a takeaway?”

Unable to break the siege of parliament, cars began sneaking out through the ditch, where protestors could be heard shouting, “You’re running like rats!”

They soon blocked that exit, too, as well as the Opera and Castille exits, where protestors were checking cars and letting out anyone who was not a parliamentarian.

Newsbook journalist Monique Agius was assaulted by Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Clint Camilleri’s staff as she attempted to ask him if he thought the Prime Minister should resign.

In a video shared on Twitter, the member of Camilleri’s staff can be heard telling the journalist “warrab l’hemm” (go away), and the journalist saying, “Don’t touch me” after she was repeatedly shoved. Apparently the Minister for Animal Rights recognises that, under this regime, some animals are more equal than others.

The incident seemed to have started a shoving match between Labour MP Clifton Grima and Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina. At least one of the men who illegally detained journalists in Castille on Thursday night can also be seen in this video.

While the protestors were chanting “Barra!” and “Assassin” at parliament, another very different rally was taking place outside Labour Party Headquarters in Hamrun, raising fears that the two groups might be inflamed into a physical altercation.

A commenter called Matthew Baxter Schembri called for exactly that beneath a live feed of the Valletta protestors, writing, “Let all the friends of the Labour Party go to Valletta now and beat them up”.

“Let all the friends of the Labour Party go to Valletta now and beat them up” – a comment by Matthew Baxter Schembri on a live feed at the protests.

This latest outburst of anger came in response to Sunday’s pre-recorded message by the Prime Minister, broadcast on the political Party airwaves, where he said he’d resign… but not just yet.

In a video as disturbing as it was over-produced, Muscat took the opportunity to praise his own tarnished legacy, again taking credit for the breakthrough in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination case — but notably omitting any reference to Schembri, Mizzi, or the resignations and arrests that have shaken his regime to its breaking point.

The speech included a tone deaf reference to the corrupt Electrogas deal that Caruana Galizia was investigating at the time of her assassination, and that linked Schembri to alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech. “We created a country where families could feel and in reality became better off because we reduced bills in unprecedented ways,” he said. “And we changed the way we generate energy to reduce air particles in the south of Malta.” In reality, bills increased.

But it was Muscat’s once again kicking his promised resignation down the road that fired the population’s indignation to a new boil. “I will be writing to the president of the Labour Party to begin a process to choose a new leader for the Labour Party by Sunday 12 January 2020,” Muscat said.

“The moment a new leader is chosen for the Labour Party, I will then resign as leader and hand over to the chosen person and then in the following days I will resign as Prime Minister for us to have a new Prime Minister.”

Despite the global news headlines sparked by his announcement, Muscat has not, in fact, resigned at all. He’s only ‘promising’ that he will in mid-January. In the meantime, his hands remain on the levers of power, and he retains the ability to meddle in a murder investigation which has already implicated him, his ‘best friend’ Schembri and his inner circle.

Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt warned that Muscat may have “motive, means and opportunity” to influence the investigation against the interests of justice, in an interview with The Shift published on Sunday.

While some Ministers attempted to distance themselves from Muscat — notably Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, in yet another cryptic Facebook post — others lavished disturbing praise on a man whose years in power have sunk the nation in previously unseen depths of corruption.

Mizzi said, “I love you — our project remains alive”, leading many to speculate to which ‘project’ the disgraced former Minister was referring. Placards carried by citizens in protests referred to the ‘roadmap of corruption’, referring to the energy roadmap he led that got the Labour Party elected in 2013 and to disgrace in 2019.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona, now reinstated after ‘suspending himself’ and claiming he was being ‘framed’, today said: “We all put our trust in people and sometimes we trust people who are intrinsically wrong, people we defend but who then pay us back with bad behaviour,” which many interpreted as a snipe at Schembri, and his alleged attempt to pin Caruana Galizia’s assassination on Cardona.

In the latest twist in the quest for justice, it was announced on Monday morning that the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech was to be heard by Magistrate Nadine Lia, who was ‘selected at random’ as cases are assigned by lot.

Lia is the daughter-in-law of Pawlu Lia, the personal lawyer of both Schembri and Muscat. Fenech has reportedly given sworn testimony to police implicating both Schembri and Muscat in Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Nadine Lia is also one of the magistrates whose appointment is being challenged before the European Court Court of Justice as an abuse of Muscat’s powers.

In a judicial protest on Monday morning, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family called for the prime minister and his actions to be investigated, and for related evidence to be preserved as part of the ongoing investigation. They called upon Joseph Muscat to desist from any further involvement in the investigation and the independent inquiry surrounding the assassination.

The Chamber of Advocates also issued a strong statement saying, “the Prime Minister’s position is untenable. He must resign”.

Protestors have vowed to continue holding rallies until Muscat and all those connected to corruption and to the assassination investigation are removed from government. “We will be here,” they said, “no matter how long it takes”.

Muscat’s defiant refusal to step down — and to distance himself from the investigation — risks tearing the country apart. The disgraced leader’s fans have repeatedly called for Labour rallies of their own to express their support for the man many of them call ‘il-King’, but some go farther than that.

In a comment posted beneath a news portal’s live feed of the protest, someone called Olin Abdilla wrote, “Ma Jamlux (sic) bomba oħra em (sic) jahasra” (why don’t they place another bomb there).

Olin Abdilla posted a message under a live feed of the protests by another news portal saying “place another bomb among the protestors”.

Will Muscat drag the country back into the tribal violence of the 1980s in order to protect himself and his closest associates?

Every day that he remains in power pushes the country closer to that brink. And every day that his Cabinet and his government refuses to step up and remove him stains their own hands more deeply with blood.

In the name of the people… Go!

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