Malta’s capital city was seemingly split into two parallel realities this morning as protesters booed and whistled to call for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, now linked to the government’s top ranks, while being sidelined behind barriers in its main street, as the Armed Forces of Malta marched through as part of the State’s activities to mark Republic Day.
The stage for today’s protest was set last night as hundreds of police officers set up and manned metal barriers along Republic Street and the surrounding areas to ensure that the protesters could not interfere in any way with the army parade and the official car of President George Vella driving through to reach St George’s Square, which is where the annual ceremony is held.
However, the metal passageway – that was set to keep the public out of the way – created a vantage point of whoever was passing through as protesters stood and booed and whistled and shouted “get out” and “justice”. Certain closed-off areas where the protesters stood became very tight with people not being able to move.
Holding up placards saying “mafia” and photos of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the crowd upped the volume – even by banging pots and wooden spoons – when the band of the Armed Forces of Malta passed through, drowning out the instruments completely.
The protest was organised by civil society groups Repubblika and Occupy Justice and is the latest in a series of ongoing demonstrations to call for justice over the assassination of Caruana Galizia and the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the political links of his top ranking government officials to her murder.
St George’s Square, where the main ceremony takes place, and Republic Street were filled with police officers carefully positioned to watch the crowd, together with plain clothes policemen and spotters on the surrounding rooftops.
In his speech to mark Republic Day, President Vella said “whoever has the Republic’s interest at heart lived through these weeks with desolation, and even a degree of anger, towards the individuals who brought us to where we are today”.
He appealed for national unity and pointed out that Malta was far bigger than the “gang of people” who brought shame on the country. “Those who brought us to this – whoever they are – were not working in the interest of the Maltese people,” he said.
Once the ceremony was over, the army marched back through Republic Street to the whistles and chants of “Go to jail”, “thieves” and “murderers” before closing off the protest with the Maltese national anthem.
The barriers were set late last night by police officers as around 30 activists spent the night guarding the protest memorial set up to Caruana Galizia to ensure that the flowers and candles would not be cleared up before today’s ceremony.
The night vigil also gave time to the activists to embellish the memorial with pots of traditional Christmas poinsettia flowers that created a bright red border around the Great Siege monument, which also had a carpet of red candles placed before it.
The next protest will take place on Monday, which marks 26 months since Caruana Galizia was killed, at 7.30pm in front of the memorial.