The Malta Independent 30 September 2022, Friday
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Watch - Updated (2): Activists argue with police, beachgoers in protest to 'reclaim Comino'

Shona Berger Saturday, 13 August 2022, 08:41 Last update: about 3 months ago

Moviment Graffitti activists this morning ended up arguing with beachgoers and the police as they turned up on Comino to "reclaim" the island.

Beachgoers were heard telling the protesters that they had been waiting for a year to go to Comino for a day at the beach, with the activists replying that they had a right to protest.

Activists continued to remove the beach furniture that was being placed on the sandy beach by the operators. Police intervened in attempts to bring order.

Beach furniture that was set up by operators at the beach was seen being removed by the activists and placed back again. Activists also "occupied" parts of the beach so as not to allow the operators to plant umbrellas and deckchairs.

The activists made their voice heard, shouting “il-bahar, ix-xatt, Kemmuna ta’ kulhadd” (the sea, the beach, Comino belongs to everyone) and “Qazziztuna, qazziztuna, tuna lura 'l Kemmuna” (You have disgusted us, give us back Comino).

Around 100 people joined Moviment Graffitti in Comino to protest. Tensions were high as apart from the commotion, The Malta Independent also witnessed two women fighting over an umbrella as a beachgoer physically tried to stop a protestor from removing it. It is understood that the operators of the deckchair/umbrella service used their own boats to bring over people from the Zewwieqa area, off Mgarr, Gozo, to confront the protestors.

This week, Moviment Graffitti announced that a public protest was to be held Saturday to "Reclaim Blue Lagoon". “As the Blue Lagoon continues to be hijacked by commercial interests that have transformed this beach into their private lido, we will free it up with the public’s participation and enjoy a day at the beach,” the NGO said.

Early this summer, the NGO had also organised a protest – unannounced – which had resulted in activists removing the beach furniture. That time, the government had said that there would be enforcement on the operators, but in the following days the bay still continue to be occupied daily.

This led to the announcement of a second protest, which is being held today. There is a heavy police presence as the NGO organised boat trips to attract as many activists as possible.

 

Moviment Graffitti has been stressing that the reason for the dire situation in Blue Lagoon is the intensive commercial interests that have taken over the beach. This not only means the large amount of deckchairs and umbrellas, but also large boats (such as catamarans) that pour in hundreds of tourists and the exaggerated number of large kiosks that create unsustainable waste and noise. Moreover, in a more recent visit to Comino, we found that only the few deckchairs on the small sandy part of the beach had been removed, while the rest of the area – on the quay, the walkway, and the other small beach – was still covered in empty deckchairs and umbrellas from early morning.

We will not accept a situation where a few people with money and political influence snatch what rightfully belongs to the people. Neither will we accept that these companies continue with their destruction of a nature reserve for their private profits.

The protest is aimed to reiterate the NGO's demands for immediate action to stop the damage being done to the Blue Lagoon and return the beach to the people:

1. Deckchairs and umbrellas are only set up at the request of a person physically present on the spot, and AT NO TIME should they occupy more than 30% of the entire area of the Blue Lagoon

2. Big boats which disembark hundreds of tourists at a time should be prohibited from Comino.

3. There should be a limit of two small kiosks, without music, in the Blue Lagoon.

4. There should be restrictions on the type and amount of waste generated, and this should be collected every day in the evening to avoid sustaining rats, which cause great damage to the natural environment.

During the protest three activists, Moviment Graffitti coordinator Andre Callus, Christine Cassar and John Paul Cauchi, together with Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg all spoke out on the matter.

The main purpose of each speech was to call on the government to take action and give Comino back to the public. The speeches planned were interrupted several times due to arguments between activists and beachgoers.

Activist Christine Cassar said that despite the many meetings, letters and appeals to the government, everything was done for nothing as no one has specified how and when action will be taken to give Comino back to the public.

For his part, Andre Callus said that the police were informed beforehand with the protest held so as to avoid any unnecessary commotion and arguments.

He argued that the authority and the police are in power to try and control this protest, even though Moviment Graffitti have all the necessary permits.

“We are not afraid of bullies. On the contrary, they motivate us to keep on fighting,” Callus said.

He explained that “yesterday we received information that operators were planning on bring their own people to occupy the space on the island and ruin the protest.”

“We do not want any trouble. This is why we notified the police Friday evening to make sure that no operators set up umbrellas and deckchairs beforehand,” Callus said.

He added that “just because the government has control over every entity, we are not afraid, and this fight will not stop here as the public is on our side.”

Cauchi cited Minister Clayton Bartolo’s words who had said that a balance was reached in Comino as a number of deckchairs and umbrellas were removed.

“This was not enough and that is why we came here today with the public,” Cauchi said.

In his speech, he also mentioned how the environmental aspect of Comino is being ruined.

“We cannot continue abusing our nature in the only place that human beings have not yet fully ruined,” Cauchi said.

He mentioned how Captain Morgan Cruises’ owner and co-director Michael Zammit Tabona, argues that “the rubbish generated from Comino disappears with the currents of the sea.”

Qala Mayor Paul Buttigieg (above) also spoke during the protest arguing that a place like Ħondoq had once experienced the same problem as Comino, but this was resolved in a couple of hours with the Minister of the time.

“An agreement was reached which states that deckchairs and umbrellas are on consignment. This means that no umbrellas and deckchairs are set up before people arrive and rent them,” Buttigieg said.

During his speech, Buttigieg also mentioned how there are those who are doing their utmost to remove him as mayor. In an interview with The Malta Independent, he had said that whoever wants to join the crowd in trying to remove him from mayor, can have their go but at the end of the day “people and those who support me judge who was on the right track”.

 

 

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