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MALTATODAY 14 August 2022

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4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 14 AUGUST 2022 NEWS LUKE VELLA MOVIMENT Graffitti yester- day was accompanied by mem- bers of the public as the dem- onstrators returned to Comino on Saturday in a public protest against the 'hijacking' of the Blue Lagoon. Around 100 activists were met with a police presence of seven officers on the island, who en- gaged in a lengthy confronta- tion with the protestors, who themselves were confronted by individuals who claimed to be uncomfortable about the rally. Activists told them they were exercising their right to protest. Armed with placards, protes- tors chanted "il-baħar, ix-xatt, Kemmuna ta' kulħadd" (the sea, the beach, Comino belongs to everyone) and "Qażżiżtuna, qa- żżiżtuna, tuna lura 'l Kemmuna" (We have had enough, give us back Comino). They expressed their anger at the authorities' inaction towards the over-com- mercialisation of the Blue La- goon. Activists removed the beach furniture that was being placed on the sandy beach abusiovely by deckchair concerns on the island, but police intervened in an attempt to bring order. Andre Callus from Moviment Graffitti got into a heated ar- gument with police officers, as they evidently took the side of the operators, and demanded that the protest ceases. Qala's Labour mayor Paul Buttigieg was also present for the protest. Tensions rose as the operators continued to set up deckchairs and umbrellas on the quay, abu- sively taking up the public fore- shore, with the activists inter- vening and removing them. Callus said that he had been assured by police a day before, that the beach would be free of beach furniture during the protest. "Despite their promis- es, when we arrived there were already a few but they kept on adding more. These bullies have a lot of power," Callus said. He said the operators had even brought their own people to the bay in order to disrupt the pro- test. The NGO invited the public to Saturday's protest, organis- ing boat trips from Ċirkewwa and Mġarr (Gozo) to the Blue Lagoon. The heads-up for the event prompted the commer- cial operators to remove the deckchairs and umbrellas from the sandy beach, as it was free from any beach furniture on Saturday morning. Last month, activists and members of Moviment Graffit- ti launched an early morning direct action on Comino, pro- testing the private concessions blocking access to the public coastline. Activists removed the laid-out deckchairs and folded them neatly against a retaining wall. Saturday's protest also follows two open letters to five min- isters who are responsible for several aspects of the island's management, laying down de- mands to ensure the Blue La- goon's protection and unbridled public access. It was made clear that the pressure on authorities will not subside as long as a few people with money and political influence snatch what rightful- ly belongs to the people while over-exploiting a nature reserve for their private profits. "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 contin- ue with their destruction of a nature reserve for their private profits," the NGO said. Moviment Graffitti reiterated their demands for immediate action to stop the damage being done to the Blue Lagoon and return the beach to the people, namely: for deckchairs and um- brellas to be 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; prohibiting big boats from disembarking hundreds of tourists at a time; a limit of two small kiosks, with- out music, in the Blue Lagoon; and restrictions on the type and amount of waste generated, which should be collected every day in the evening to avoid sus- taining rats, which cause great damage to the natural environ- ment. The protest was endorsed by Għawdix, ACT Malta, BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Extinc- tion Rebellion Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Grow 10 Trees Project (G10T), MaYA Founda- tion, Nature Trust Malta, Ro- ta, The Archaeological Society Malta, Ramblers Association, and Żminijietna - Voice of the Left. Abusive beach encroachment in Comino continues, police attempt to stop activists Top: Andre Callus speaks to police officers. Around 100 activists were met with a police presence of seven officers on the island, who engaged in a lengthy confrontation with the protestors

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