Hundreds attend Save Gozo protest -
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Mark Micallef

It started off with a couple of hundred people at City Gate in Valletta but snowballed into a crowd of some 1,500 by the time the protest was half way down Republic Street.

Yesterday's Save Gozo protest march went better than the organisers had expected, given the sweltering heat.

Commenting on the attendance, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar spokesman Astrid Vella said she was "absolutely delighted" with the turnout.

"Given that there was practically no run-up to the event and considering the oppressive heat, I think we can be more than satisfied," she said.

More people turned up than last year's protest against the extension of the development boundaries, which also took place in June and which was estimated to have attracted some 1,000 supporters.

The crowd yesterday included people from all walks of life and from various political leanings.

Besides representatives from the Labour Party, Alternattiva Demokratika and a host of green NGOs, people from the right-wing movement and the Jesuits were also present. The message was: "We want an inquiry" into the Ramla l-Hamra development.

While last year the target of the protest was primarily the government, this time round, it was mainly the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

"Save Gozo from Mepa" one placard read. Another sarcastically called for the immediate canonisation of Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono: "Giovanna Santa Subito".

The march proceeded calmly right down to Republic Square, as St George's Square by the House of Representatives was closed off by the police. At this point, the names of Mepa's board members were read out aloud to jeers and boos, until Joe Brincat's name was called. Dr Brincat is Labour's representative on the board and the only member who voted against the project.

The highly controversial permit gives developers the go-ahead to build a tourist complex around the Ulysses Lodge on the slopes overlooking Ramla Bay. The permit has churned a storm of protest amid claims it will ruin a pristine area and allegations that Mepa did not follow the correct procedure when it waived the need for an Environment Impact Assessment.

Addressing the protesters, Mrs Vella said that in any other civilised country, one "scandal" such as that of Ramla l-Hamra would have been enough to rock the boat and possibly force the resignation of some people.

There had been many such incidents locally in recent years, however, and nothing had happened.

On the strength of a petition signed by 7,000 calling for the revocation of the permit, Mrs Vella insisted that the authorities had better start listening.

A leading figure in the protest against the development, Xaghra councillor Carmen Bajada, said Labour MEP Joseph Muscat had accepted to raise the issue in the European Parliament.

However, the Ramla development was not the only "environmentally damaging" development to be featured.

Organisers took issue with the proposed marina development at Hondoq ir-Rummien and the waste transfer facility at Mgarr ix-Xini, limits of Ghajnsielem.

The protest ended with the singing of the national anthem and the presentation of a petition to Parliament. A number of NGOs issued press releases against the project. The Archaeological Society commented on the "inexplicable" waiving of the EIA by Mepa which, it said, "has adopted a narrow and dangerous view".

"An EIA is not simply a matter of examining the plot of land but of looking at the whole development in relation to a much bigger picture," the society said in reference to the fact that the authority took a detailed inspection of the plot by a team of archaeologists as constituting sufficient study.

The society wished to see the permit revoked pending a proper independent assessment of the impact of this development not just on the archaeology but on the entire environment of the area as well as the impact on tourism in the long term.

The hunter's federation (FKNK) also condemned the development, describing it as a symptom of the government and Mepa's lax and irresponsible attitude towards the rampant and exploitative development which is fast ruining the countryside.
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26 Jun 2007 by