Hundreds protest and call for better environmental protection

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Protesters yesterday called for better enforcement of environment protection laws as they braved the rain to attend a rally in Valletta.

The rally, on Republic Street, attracted a few hundred protesters blowing whistles and carrying colourful placards and streamers calling for the protection of the environment.

"Too many greedy cowboys, no sheriffs," one of the placards read, while another stated that Sliema residents gasped for clean air.

The rally was organised in protest against the abuse of Natura 2000 sites, encroachment on outside development zones, illegal hunting, air pollution, unauthorised groundwater extraction and the destruction of heritage and lack of public consultation on such issues as the Freeport.

"We need an absolute reform of the planning authority," said Lino Bugeja, from the Ramblers' Association, one of eight non-governmental groups that organised yesterday's rally.

Astrid Vella, from Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, said air pollution was the greatest threat to public health.

Referring to the pouring rain, Ms Vella said: "People have long been saying that having a roofless theatre was not a good idea. Today is the answer."

The organisers said they were pleasantly surprised by the turnout. "We are not fair-weather sailors, but are prepared to suffer for the sake of legality and fight for the country's interests," Alex Vella, from the Ramblers' Association said.

He lashed out at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, accusing it of being scared to apply the law against big contractors.

"The law should be applied uniformly with everyone," he said, adding that abuse was still widespread while permits were being issued haphazardly. "We are calling on politicians to do their duty and safeguard the law as they promised when they took the oath of office," he said.

Birdlife executive director Tolga Temuge called on the government to stop "being strong with the weak and weak with the strong".

In a statement handed out to the media, the organisers said despite promises by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi for better protection of Malta's natural environment, Mepa itself was interpreting its policies to suit private and not national interest.

It said the authorities have not yet taken the necessary actions to clamp down on the illegal killing and trapping of protected species, while there were "thousands of illegally built hunting and trapping hides, tool rooms, so-called boat houses and shanties occupying public land, including EU-protected Natura 2000 sites".

The rally was organised by the Ramblers, FAA, Friends of the Earth, Birdlife Malta, Nature Trust, Graffitti, Greenhouse and the Malta Organic and Agricultural Movement.

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