The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Shameful

Malta Independent Thursday, 8 March 2007, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

What was intended to be a peaceful protest by hunters and trappers in Valletta yesterday, degenerated into a shameful display of violence as a group of protestors assaulted some photographers and journalists who were covering the activity.

Staged by the hunters and trappers federation (FKNK), the protest was intended to be a demonstration in which federation representatives presented two letters to the government and the opposition regarding hunting and trapping regulations.

However, Republic Street witnessed scenes of havoc as thousands of hunters and trappers were making their way out of Valletta at the end of the protest.

As police did their best to try controlling the crowds, a group of protestors began throwing glass bottles at journalists and photographers, who, trying to move away and protect each other, were assaulted by the crowd.

The Times photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi had to be admitted to hospital after he suffered a bad blow to the face, while The Malta Independent photographer Ben Borg Cardona, who had his camera smashed, ended up with half his photography equipment being stolen.

Hunters and trappers had started gathering at City Gate before 5.30pm, dressed in their khaki gear, honking gas horns, drinking beer and riding on trucks covered in nets, tree branches and other material.

As they started making their way towards the Palace at about 6pm, protestors carried placards and chanted “Pullicino pulcinell”, evidently referring to Rural Affairs and the Environment Minister George Pullicino.

Although FKNK representatives refused to present journalists with a copy of the letters they presented to the government and the opposition, it is understood that the federation was mainly calling on the government to immediately publish the dates of this month’s open season for song birds, turtledoves and quail.

Among other things, FKNK was also calling on the government to meet them, so that Legal Notice 79/2006 may be amended appropriately, with particular reference to technical details dealing with regulations for trapping and hunting from sea.

After they presented the two letters to Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg on behalf of the government, and Labour deputy leader Charles Mangion and Labour MP Roderick Galdes on behalf of the opposition, FKNK representatives rushed to address the protestors, refusing to give their comments to journalists.

As federation president Joe Buttigieg delivered his speech, threatening that 7,000 votes of hunters, trappers and their families could be lost in this Saturday’s local council elections if the government failed to uphold their proposals, protestors hurled glass bottles over towards where the police and journalists were standing behind the barricades.

Mr Buttigieg said the federation had called on the Labour party to join them in their effort to have the government clarify its position on the issue.

As protestors chanted “Viva l-Labour”, Mr Buttigieg insisted that in its two letters, FKNK called on both political parties to safeguard the traditional practices of hunting and trapping for them and their families.

Hunting season shortened

Following recommendations from the Ornis committee, the Rural Affairs and the Environment Ministry has published the dates of the open season for hunting and trapping of turtledoves and quail.

The dates were published some time before members of the hunters and trappers federation (FKNK) gathered in Valletta to stage a protest and present two letters to the government and the opposition yesterday evening.

While hunting for quail and turtledoves is only allowed between 10 April and 20 May this year, trapping is permitted between 26 March and 20 May.

The decision was announced by way of a letter that Minister George Pullicino sent to Ornis chairman Louis Cilia.

The minister said the decision was intended to create a balance and allow for the two separate hobbies to be practised equally, particularly since migration of quail and turtledoves takes place mostly after 10 April.

He added that the fact that the hunting season for both bird species opens on the same day should also help supervision.

Condemnation

The government strongly condemned the violence, saying that such attacks are never justified. While recognising people’s right of expression, the government said that the rights of the police and the press to carry out their duties free from harm should be likewise respected.

The Institute of Maltese Journalists and the Journalists’ Committee also condemned the violent attacks on journalists and photographers during the hunters’ and trappers’ protest yesterday.

The federation said it was unacceptable that protestors hurled glass bottles, threatened, assaulted and injured members of the media covering the activity, one of whom had to be admitted to hospital.

One particular photographer’s camera was reported stolen, while another photographer’s camera was damaged by protestors in the presence of the police and organisers, said the federation.

Journalists’ Committee chairman Karl Schembri said this incident was unacceptable and called for immediate action to be taken against the aggressors.

Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party (AD) yesterday also expressed solidarity with journalists and photographers who were assaulted.

While AD said it understands that it was only some hunters who acted violently, the party believes it is about time that the Federation for Hunters and Bird Trappers (FKNK) starts monitoring its members, and make sure that “thugs” are not allowed to act in such ways.

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