Malta To Hold General Elections March 26, Says PM

Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela arrives for an informal meeting of the European Council on Ukraine and Russia at The European Council building in Brussels on February 17, 2022. (Photo by Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP)

 

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday called a general election for March 26, launching a campaign likely to be dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and the fight against corruption.

“In the coming hours, I will be going to the president and advising him to dissolve parliament for a general election to be held on 26 March,” Abela said during a party rally in Floriana.

Abela has led the Mediterranean island nation since January 2020, when Joseph Muscat quit following a political crisis over the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

READ ALSO: Queen Elizabeth Tests Positive For COVID-19, Says Palace

Opinion polls suggest their Labour party has a significant lead over the opposition Nationalist Party, pointing to a comfortable third-term win.

Abela is expected to campaign on his handling of the pandemic, highlighting support for businesses, an EU-leading vaccination campaign and a return to brisk economic growth.

But Nationalist leader Bernard Grech, who took over a year ago as the party battled poor poll ratings, is likely to focus on the government’s record on the rule of law and corruption.

Malta Set To Legalise Cannabis For Personal Use

iew of a Cannabis plant at the house of Valeria Rivera -a member of the self-managing NGO “Mama cultiva” (Mom grows)- in Buenos Aires on November 19, 2020. JUAN MABROMATA / AFP
File photo of a Cannabis plant. JUAN MABROMATA / AFP

 

Malta’s parliament was set Tuesday to approve plans to legalise possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use — a first in Europe, although other countries tolerate it.

Adults will be allowed to have up to seven grams of cannabis and grow up to four plants at home for their personal use, under legislation backed by Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Labour party.

The law also allows for the creation of regulated non-profit associations of up to 500 people each to grow the drug for the exclusive use of its members.

“We are legislating to address a problem and taking the harm reduction approach by regulating the sector so that people do not have to resort to the black market to purchase cannabis,” Abela said during a parliamentary debate last month.

He said he wanted to maintain a tough stance on dealers but spare parents the “trauma” of their child being arrested and hauled to court over a joint.

READ ALSO: Uganda Opposition Leader Bobi Wine ‘Under House Arrest’

“We are dissuading people from smoking cannabis, while not treating those who choose to do so as criminals. Drug trafficking will remain illegal,” he said.

The move comes just weeks after Luxembourg announced similar proposals, while personal use and growing of cannabis is also tolerated in Spain and tolerated in the Netherlands.

 

– ‘Normalise abuse’ –

Malta is often regarded as socially conservative but had already decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis, passing legislation that promoted the island as a potential centre for the production of medical marijuana.

The main opposition Nationalist Party has opposed the latest plan, warning it would “normalise and increase drug abuse in our country”, but it does not have enough votes to block the law.

The law also softens penalties for those found with larger amounts of cannabis.

Adults in possession of between seven and 28 grams of cannabis for their own use face a tribunal rather than a court, and a maximum 100-euro fine.

Minors caught in possession of cannabis meanwhile will be referred to a tribunal which may propose a care plan or treatment.

Consuming cannabis in public however remains illegal, punishable by a 235-euro fine, while consuming the drug in front of a child, whether in public or private, could trigger a penalty of between 300 and 500 euros.

In October, Luxembourg’s government unveiled proposals to allow each household to grow up to four cannabis plants, and to reduce fines for public consumption in cases involving fewer than three grams.

In Spain, the lack of a legal framework allows for the private production and consumption of cannabis by adults for their personal use in a private space, though its sale is still illegal.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands tolerates the sale of small amounts of cannabis to locals in coffeeshops and possession by individuals of no more than five grams of cannabis or five plants.

AFP

Maltese State Responsible For Journalist’s Assassination

 In this file photo taken on October 19, 2017 Flowers and tributes lay at the foot of the Great Siege monument in Valletta, which has been turned into a temporary shrine for Maltese journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia (picture) who was killed by a car bomb outside her home three days before. Matthew Mirabelli / AFP
In this file photo taken on October 19, 2017 Flowers and tributes lay at the foot of the Great Siege monument in Valletta, which has been turned into a temporary shrine for Maltese journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia (picture) who was killed by a car bomb outside her home three days before. Matthew Mirabelli / AFP

 

Malta should take responsibility for the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as it created “an atmosphere of impunity” that risked her life, a public inquiry concluded.

The October 2017 car-bomb killing of Caruana Galizia, who exposed cronyism and sleaze within Malta’s political and business elite, sparked international outrage and protests that forced the resignation of former prime minister Joseph Muscat.

A panel of three judges wrote in a 437-page report that although they had not found proof of government involvement, Muscat and his entire former cabinet should be held responsable.

“The state should shoulder responsibility for the assassination,” read the report, which took nearly two years to compile, according to Maltese news media on Thursday.

“It created an atmosphere of impunity, generated from the highest echelons of the administration… the tentacles of which then spread to other institutions, such as the police and regulatory authorities, leading to a collapse in the rule of law”, it read, according to the Times of Malta.

Caruana Galizia, 53, has been described as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”.

The blogger was known for investigating high-level corruption and contributed to the 2016 Panama Papers data leak.

Her family said the panel’s findings confirmed their belief “that her assassination was a direct result of the collapse of the rule of law and the impunity that the State provided to the corrupt network she was reporting on”.

“We hope that its findings will lead to the restoration of the rule of law in Malta, effective protection for journalists, and an end to the impunity that the corrupt officials Daphne investigated continue to enjoy,” they said.

Political price

The panel found the state shirked its duty to protect Caruana Galizia and subjected her to personal attacks and verbal abuse from politicians.

The atmosphere created a “favourable climate” for her assassination, and there was “convincing evidence” that her killers knew they would be protected “persons in the highest state positions”.

Muscat stepped down in January 2020 after widespread anger and mass protests over his perceived efforts to protect friends and allies from the investigation.

The ongoing criminal investigation has thus far charged three men over the murder, with one of them sentenced in February to 15 years in prison.

In March, Muscat’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was charged with crimes including corruption, fraud and money laundering.

He claims innocence.

In a lengthy statement on Facebook in reaction to the inquiry’s report, Muscat said the swift arrest of the alleged hitmen following Caruana Galizia’s murder “disproves any impression of impunity” they may have had.

He added that prior governments had acted with impunity before his term of office.

“Despite the very serious reservations on the shortcomings of the Inquiry, I accept the said conclusions as I have always done in the past out of respect for the Institutions,” he said.

He said he had “paid the ultimate political price”.

A series of recommendations by the panel include measures to increase transparency and break the cozy relationship between business and politics, as well as better protection of journalists.

AFP

Malta Leads EU With 70 Percent COVID-19 Vaccine Coverage

File: CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

 

Malta, which leads the European Union in coronavirus vaccinations, will on Monday reach its target of giving 70 percent of adults at least one dose, the health minister announced.

The Mediterranean island, which has a population of around 500,000, declared it had reached “herd immunity” — although the EU’s definition for such a milestone is tougher.

After around 475,000 doses, around 42 percent of the population is fully vaccinated with both doses of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine, or with a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials said.

“Today we have reached herd immunity. The vaccine is our weapon against the virus,” Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne told reporters.

He added: “It means that the virus’ transmission — even if the virus is still among us — has decreased significantly.”

The achievement comes well ahead of schedule — the government had initially targeted September, before moving the date to the end of June.

The European Commission aims to get 70 percent of the EU population fully vaccinated by late July.

Malta, which has recorded more than 400 deaths from coronavirus, is slowly emerging from months of restrictions, with tourism set to restart on June 1.

Fearne revealed plans for a domestic “vaccine certificate” which could be used to re-open cultural and social events, most of which are currently banned.

He also announced that the requirement to wear a mask outdoors at all times would start to be relaxed on July 1.

Fully vaccinated people will be allowed to stay outdoors without a mask as long as they are alone or accompanied by a maximum of one more fully vaccinated person.

Case numbers in Malta have been extremely low in recent weeks: the current seven-day moving average of new cases stands at just three per day, with no deaths in the past three weeks.

AFP

Malta To Accept Migrants After Shipwreck In Mediterranean

The ‘Iuventa’, a rescue ship run by young German NGO ‘Jugend Rettet’ (Youth Saves), sails off the Libyan coast during a rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea.  ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Sunday said his country will take in 19 migrants rescued after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean overnight.

Seventeen migrants had initially been rescued by Malta’s armed forces in the country’s search and rescue area, but a pregnant woman and child were then saved after survivors said they were missing.

“We have found them, and they are all alive,” Muscat told journalists, adding that he had given instructions for the group to be brought to Malta.

However, Malta is still refusing to take in 40 migrants who have been stranded for a week after being rescued by a commercial ship within the country’s search and rescue area.

On Thursday the government strongly rejected reports that Malta broke international rules by directing the migrants to disembark in Tunisia.

“The applicable conventions stipulate that disembarkation should take place at the nearest place of safety. Tunisia was the nearest place of safety,” the government said in a statement.

Tunisia has also refused to take in the 40 migrants, who are now stranded off the Tunisian port of Zarzis on the ship that rescued them, as letting them land would set a precedent.

In recent years Malta has normally only accepted rescued migrants on its shores if they were saved in the country’s territorial waters or in cases of medical emergencies.

Europe has been rocked by a burgeoning crisis over what to do with the influx of people fleeing conflict and persecution across the Mediterranean after Italy’s new populist government started turning away rescue ships.

Italy has since tried to push Malta to accept more migrants, but the authorities in capital Valletta have often turned them down, saying that the operations took place closer to the shores of Tunisia or Italy’s own islands.

Pope Francis waded into the fractious debate on Sunday, calling on the international community to act “decisively and quickly” to prevent further shipwrecks tragedies in the Mediterranean.

“In recent weeks there have been dramatic reports of shipwrecks of boats loaded with migrants,” he said, adding that the “safety, respect of rights and the dignity of all must be guaranteed”.

AFP

German’s Migrant Ship May Dock In Malta

The ‘Iuventa’, a rescue ship run by young German NGO ‘Jugend Rettet’ (Youth Saves), sails off the Libyan coast during a rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

France said Tuesday that “a European solution seems to be emerging” for the humanitarian ship Lifeline, stranded at sea with 234 migrants on board, and it may be allowed to dock in Malta.

“As I speak, a European solution seems to be emerging: (it) would be a docking in Malta,” French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told RTL radio.

The German NGO ship Lifeline rescued the migrants, including children and pregnant women, on Thursday but the vessel has been stranded in the Mediterranean after Malta and Italy refused to accept it.

The decision by the two countries to stop allowing migrant rescue vessels to dock has plunged Europe into a political crisis over how to collectively handle the hundreds of people fleeing war and misery in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Griveaux insisted there was no migrant “crisis” but urged leaders “to respond quickly to an urgent situation”.

“France is ready to send a team on site to process (asylum) requests on a case-by-case basis,” as it did for migrants aboard the Aquarius vessel once it docked in Spain after also being refused by Italy and Malta.

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels this week for a summit where the migrant issue will be high on the agenda.

Italy and Malta say they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the new arrivals, while other European countries are urging more forceful policies to block their entry.

France has proposed setting up EU asylum processing centres in Africa aimed at discouraging people to attempt dangerous trips across the Mediterranean.

AFP

Italy, Malta In Diplomatic Spat Over Migrant Arrivals

Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (L) looks on flanked by Italy’s Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi (R) and Italy’s Family and Disabilty Minister Lorenzo Fontana (bottom) during a debate ahead of a confidence vote in the Italian Senate in Rome on June 5, 2018.
Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

 

Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini engaged in a war of words with the Maltese government Friday after accusing the Mediterranean island of not doing its fair share to take in migrants.

“The good God put Malta closer to Africa than Sicily,” said the nationalist Salvini, as a new wave of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean prepared to land in Italy.

“It is not possible for Malta to say ‘no’ to any request for help,” he continued.

Salvini’s comments came after Malta reportedly refused to come to the aid of a migrant rescue ship Seefuchs, which was stranded with 119 migrants onboard in the Mediterranean due to violent sea conditions.

The ship had embarked on a mission coordinated by the Italian coastguard on Wednesday to rescue migrants aboard a dinghy in distress.

But after evacuating the dinghy, the Seefuchs was forced to call for assistance from a bigger vessel, unable to navigate in the deteriorating weather conditions without putting the migrants’ lives in danger.

According to the German NGO Sea-Watch, which attempted in vain to assist the Seefuchs due to the adverse conditions, Valletta refused to offer assistance, apart from agreeing to accept medical evacuations by air.

The Maltese government was quick to deny it had done anything wrong.

“With regards to Search and Rescue, Malta acts in accordance to the international conventions that apply,” the government said in a statement Friday evening.

“Malta will continue to respect these conventions with respect to the Safety of Life at Sea (maritime treaty), as happened in this latest case and indeed in each case.”

– 70 hours in rough seas –

The Seefuchs was finally reached on Friday afternoon by a tanker and an Italian coast guard ship and is expected to dock at the port of Pozzallo in southern Sicily in the evening.

The migrants on board were reportedly in a state of distress after spending 70 hours in rough seas.

Another 232 migrants, on board the NGO ship Sea Watch 3 are also set to disembark in the southern Italian state of Calabria Saturday morning after more than three days at sea.

Unconvinced by Valletta’s statement, the bullish Salvini, issued a sharp response Friday evening.

“Can our Maltese friends tell us how many ships carrying immigrants docked in their ports in 2018?” he said in a statement.

“How many people landed, how many asylum applications were examined and how many accepted? Italy wants to solve problems, not create them.”

Salvini — who is also deputy prime minister — has repeatedly promised to stop migrants arriving in Italy and speed up deportations.

He accuses fellow EU nations of abandoning Italy in the struggle to deal with migrant arrivals, recently announcing that Italy cannot be “Europe’s refugee camp.”

The southern European nation has seen more than 700,000 migrants arrive on their shores since 2013.

However, a controversial agreement between Italy’s former centre-left government and authorities and militias in Libya has triggered a decline in overall arrivals of some 75 per cent since the summer of 2017.

But so far this year Italian authorities have still registered more than 13,500 arrivals.

Malta Arrests Eight In Probe Into Journalist’s Killing

journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia arriving at the Law Court in Malta. Capuana Galizia was killed today on October 16, 2017 in a car bomb close to her home in Bidnija, Malta. The force of the blast broke her car into several pieces and catapulted the journalist’s body into a nearby field, witnesses said. She leaves a husband and three sons. Caruana Galizia’s death comes four months after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party won a resounding victory in a general election he called early as a result of scandals to which Caruana Galizia’s allegations were central.
Matthew Mirabelli / AFP

Maltese authorities have arrested eight people in connection with the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a statement Monday.

Blogger Caruana Galizia, who was 53 when she was killed in a car bomb attack on October 16, had made repeated and detailed corruption allegations against both Muscat’s inner circle and the opposition.

Muscat said police and the military were involved in an operation following a weeks-long investigation into the high-profile murder.

“During this operation, 8 persons were arrested” the statement said, adding that they faced “reasonable suspicion in connection with involvement in the murder” of Caruana Galizia.

All the suspects were Maltese nationals, Muscat’s statement added.

AFP

Libyan Plane Hijackers Surrender

Libyan Plane Lands In MaltaTwo Libyan men who hijacked a plane from Libya to Malta and threatened to blow it up have surrendered peacefully, allowing 118 passengers and crew to leave the aircraft before walking out alongside the last of the crew.

Officials said two hijackers aboard the plane that was forced to land in Malta on Friday, threatened to blow up the aircraft with grenades.

The domestic flight – Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 was hijacked after taking off from Sabha, bound for the Libyan capital Tripoli but instead was diverted to Malta International Airport.

It appears the two hijackers are supporters of Libya’s late deposed leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Etienne Saint John, a spokesman for Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Malta’s armed forces led the negotiations with the hijackers as they started allowing the passengers as well as crew members to leave the plane earlier.

According to CNN, John said: “They have grenades and are threatening to blow up the plane. No words on their demands yet”.

“The Foreign Affairs Ministry is waiting for the passenger manifest. The safety of the passengers is of the utmost importance.”

While it is unclear who exactly the hijackers are, Sabha has been a center for political tribal violence.

Deadly clashes still erupt there between tribes loyal to Gadhafi and anti-Gaddafi groups.

 

Libya: Rival Parliament Leaders Hold First Meeting

Libya's rival Parliament Leaders- Agila Salah and Nouri AbusahmenIn a bid to resolve the crisis in Libya, the heads of the country’s two rival parliaments have met for the first time.

Agila Salah, from the internationally recognised congress in the eastern city of Tobruk, and Nouri Abusahmen, from the Tripoli-based General National Congress, held talks in Malta.

But the expected signing of a UN plan for a national unity government has been postponed till Thursday.

Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Amid the turmoil, the country has become a major departure point for some of the thousands of migrants travelling to Europe.

The Islamic State (ISIS) group is also taking advantage of the instability to expand inside Libya.

The meeting in Malta between the two men follows weekend talks in Rome in which world powers urged Libya’s warring factions to stop fighting and back a unity government.

Support Our Efforts To Check Oil Sector Corruption, Buhari Tells Commonwealth

powerPresident Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has urged the international community to support his government’s efforts to curb corruption in the oil and gas industry.

The President made the demand on Saturday at a group meeting of Commonwealth leaders on corruption held in Malta and chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.

He said that corruption in the oil sector and outright theft of Nigeria’s crude oil had been exacerbated by the culture of impunity which reigned under previous administrations.

The President further stated that corruption in the sector had also thrived because of the ease of transferring illicit funds abroad and the institutional protection given to corrupt officials in the past.

“Now that we have the political will to stop impunity, we need the cooperation and assistance of the international community.

“We must all work together to compel multinational oil companies, international financial institutions and international shipping lines to stop aiding and abetting corruption in the oil sector in Nigeria,” President Buhari told the gathering which included the leaders of Australia, Canada, Singapore, Malta, Sri Lanka, Botswana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Need To Reject Corruption

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Prime Minister Cameron said that the Commonwealth and the international community must do more to fight corruption and promote good governance.

“We care passionately about this issue of fighting corruption. In my view, this issue needs to have a much higher billing on the international agenda, not just because fighting corruption is right in itself, but because all the other things we want to achieve as countries and members of the Commonwealth depend on our success in doing so.

“If we want fair economic growth, we need to reject corruption. If we want to see fair and sustainable development, we need to deal with corruption. I think this is an absolutely vital issue. It is an issue for all of us because so much of the money stolen from developing countries is hidden in developed countries.

“So dealing with money laundering, dealing with beneficial ownership and making sure we stop stolen money being hidden away in developed countries is absolutely vital,” the British Prime Minister said.

In an earlier meeting, President Buhari had asked for the support of the Commonwealth in the war on terror currently going in Nigeria’s north-east and other countries that may have been affected by the scourge of terrorism.

Migrant Crisis: Swedish Border Checks Introduced

migrants crisisBorder checks have been introduced as migrants continue to flock into Europe in search of a safe haven.

Sweden announced the introduction of the temporary border checks to control the flow of migrants into the country.

Swedish Interior Minister, Anders Ygeman, said that this became necessary after Police warned that a surge in new arrivals posed a threat to public order.

The controls would come into effect from midday local time on Thursday and would last initially for 10 days.

This comes as European Union (EU) and African leaders gather in Malta to discuss measures to stem the flow of people into Europe.

On the day the summit began, 14 migrants drowned in the latest boat sinking between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos.

Seven of those who died were children.

Coastguards said they had rescued 27 survivors.