Malta

MFSA restricts sale of Contracts for Differences for retail clients

The Malta Independent - 1 ora 23 min fa

As part of its ongoing efforts to enhance consumer protection, the MFSA said it has updated the Conduct of Business Rulebook to implement important changes essentially restricting the marketing, distribution or sale of Contracts for Differences (CFDs) to retail investors. This update follows an extensive consultation process which the Authority held with industry earlier this year.

During the last years, the European market has witnessed a rapid increase in the marketing, distribution or sale of CFDs to retail clients across the EU. CFDs are inherently risky and complex products. European regulators have expressed widespread concerns on the increasing number of retail clients trading in these products and having them losing their money. These concerns are also supported by the numerous complaints received from retail clients across the EU who have suffered significant losses when trading CFDs.

The permanent restrictions, introduced in the Conduct of Business Rulebook, include amongst other things, requirements that ensure that investors do not lose more money than they put in.  Moreover, there also restrictions on incentives offered to trade in CFDs and investors must be provided with understandable risk warnings so that they are aware of the high degree of risk involved when investing in such products. 

Moreover, the MFSA said it has introduced standardised warnings on the risk carried by such investments to ensure that customers are made aware of the high degree of risk involved when investing in such products. 

MFSA updates Conduct of Business Rulebook to include the relevant provisions regarding the permanent restriction on the marketing, distribution or sale of CFDs to retail investors in or from Malta o CFDs are complex and risky financial products with significant risk of loss of money o Investment firms will be required to warn retail clients of risks involved when investing in these products.

MFSA’s Head of Conduct Supervision Michelle Mizzi Buontempo, remarked that “these rules, in line with the MFSA’s Vision, seek to strike a balance between the market’s need to provide fair competition and client choice, while at the same time protecting consumers of financial services, and safeguarding the integrity and stability of the financial system.”

The European Securities and Markets Authority (‘ESMA’) has issued a formal opinion on the MFSA’s national product intervention measures relating to contracts for differences.

Categorie: Malta

Updated (2): Police fatally shoot Rio bus hostage-taker

The Malta Independent - 2 ore 3 min fa

An armed man who took dozens of hostages on a bus in Brazil was shot dead by police following a four-hour standoff on Tuesday, authorities said.

All the hostages were freed unharmed during the incident in Rio de Janeiro, state Gov. Wilson Witzel said. The man, holding a gun and a knife, took 37 people hostage around 5:30 a.m. on a busy bridge linking the suburb of Sao Gonçalo to downtown Rio de Janeiro.

Some passengers who were earlier freed by the assailant told police that the man had spilled gasoline in the bus and was threatening to set it on fire.

However, Hans Moreno, one of the hostages, said on TV Globo that the man had appeared "very calm."

Officials said the man had identified himself as a policeman but that they were not able to confirm this information. He did not make any particular demands, according to police.

"I want to thank the police for its work," Witzel told TV Globo. This kind of situation "is happening in communities. They have rifles in the communities, terrorizing the communities."

Rio's elite police force, known as BOPE, had taken charge of negotiations with the hostage-taker. A sniper was placed nearby. Traffic was blocked in both directions on the bridge, with hundreds of vehicles waiting in line.

Sao Gonçalo, an area struggling with poverty and violence, is separated from Rio by Guanabara Bay. Many use the bridge where the hostages were seized to go to and from work.

Categorie: Malta

What to expect as Italy's political crisis unfolds

The Malta Independent - 2 ore 21 min fa

Italy's Premier Giuseppe Conte will appear in the Senate on Tuesday to deliver a much anticipated address about the political crisis that has erupted in the middle of the summer break.

The political showdown was triggered two weeks ago by hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini — known across Europe for his tough stance against migrants — when he pulled the plug on the shaky populist coalition forged only 14 months earlier between his right-wing League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Salvini wants to capitalize on a surge in support — polls show the League at 38 percent — and push Italy to early elections. But his political gamble may not produce the desired result. There are a number of possible scenarios in which a new government could be formed without Italians heading back to the polls.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TUESDAY?

Conte in his speech to the Senate is expected to blast Salvini for bringing about the crisis, and after that he may announce his resignation. Even if he doesn't do that immediately, barring a last-minute patch-up between Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, the governing coalition Conte was asked to lead no longer exists, so he will eventually have to face a confidence vote and resign.

That puts the ball in the court of President Sergio Mattarella, who will be expected to quickly start consultations with party leaders to explore possible alternative coalitions.

To complicate matters, this is happening just ahead of talks on a difficult budget law that could trigger a new confrontation between Italy and the European Union over deficit targets. The 2020 budget has to line up financial resources worth 23 billion euros to avert a massive VAT hike that risks plunging Italy into a new recession. It needs approval from parliament by year-end, after being submitted to the European Commission in mid-October.

As rival party leaders keep negotiating to isolate Salvini and thwart his bid for power, Mattarella is faced with various scenarios.

THE ODD COUPLE

Earlier this month, the League failed to win support in the Senate for a confidence motion against Conte as the 5-Stars joined forces with the opposition Democratic Party and smaller left-wing groups to freeze it. That move appeared to have caught Salvini off-guard and showed that an alliance between the 5-Stars and the Democratic Party — traditionally bitter rivals — isn't impossible.

In theory, the two parties could form a new government with the support of the smaller parties that helped them block the no-confidence motion. However, both would face stiff opposition from within their own ranks.

Some leading Democrats, including former Premier Matteo Renzi, say a partnership with the 5-Stars is the only way to save Italy from a Salvini-led government. But others, including current leader Nicola Zingaretti, fear it could seriously damage the party in the next parliamentary elections. Critics also worry that Renzi's proposal hides a plan to regain power and then found his own political group.

THE URSULA OPTION

Some political analysts have suggested a stronger government could be forged through a grand coalition between the left, the 5-Stars and Forza Italia — the shrinking center-right party led by 82-year-old Silvio Berlusconi.

That scenario is known in Italian political circles as the "Ursula" option, because it would bring together the Italian parties that joined forces to back German politician Ursula von der Leyen to become the next president of the European Commission. Salvini's party voted against her.

Backers of the "Ursula" scenario include former Commission President Romano Prodi, who has said it would have more long-term potential than a 5-Star and Democratic tie-up.

A CARETAKER GOVERNMENT

If coalition talks fail, Mattarella could still ask the main parties to form a caretaker government. Such a plan would likely include the same forces as a grand coalition, but with a shorter time-span.

A caretaker government — possibly headed by a politically neutral figure or by Conte himself — would be in charge of delivering the new budget. That remains a challenging option for any party, as approving tough economic measures ahead of possible elections may eventually favor the League.

Analysts believe that a caretaker government or a grand coalition would be "market friendly" scenarios, as they would sooth investor worries over a League-dominated budget that would likely spark a new row with Brussels.

NEW ELECTIONS

If no viable alternative to the current government emerges, the president will have no choice but to call new elections, possibly as soon as late October.

That's the scenario that Salvini wants, because it could make him prime minister. Judging by recent polls, his League could win more than 50 percent of the vote in a right-wing alliance with Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy.

Salvini has accused his opponents of doing everything possible to avoid new elections in a "desperate" attempt to cling on to their seats in Parliament.

Categorie: Malta

Gozo Channel worker charged with stealing passenger’s bag containing €1,500

The Malta Independent - 2 ore 24 min fa

A Gozo Channel employee has been released on bail after being accused of stealing a passenger’s bag containing €1,500.

26 year-old Joseph Galea of Xewkija was arraigned before magistrate Bridget Sultana in Gozo earlier today, charged with theft and handling stolen goods.

Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri told the court that Galea, who was a cafeteria employee, had found a woman’s handbag containing €1,500 and a mobile phone that had been left behind by a passenger on August 9.

Galea claimed that he had placed the bag in a store room used for lost belongings, but the police had also spoken to the victim’s son who claimed that the accused had denied finding any handbags.

Defence lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia entered a plea of not guilty on the man’s behalf and requested bail.

Although the prosecution objected to the request, the court granted Galea bail against a €3,000 deposit and a €4,000 personal guarantee, ordering the man to sign a bail book 3 times per week and obey a curfew.

 

Categorie: Malta

Man gets one year in prison after assaulting police officers

The Malta Independent - 2 ore 29 min fa

A man from Serbia who entered Malta with a false Slovenian passport and claimed to be French Foreign Legionnaire, has been jailed for a year after assaulting police officers.

Miljan Cvetkovic was accused of using a false passport, resisting arrest, slightly injuring a police constable and escaping from police custody whilst being escorted to Mater Dei Hospital.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea had heard the prosecution explain how Cvetkovic had been arrested in a hotel gym and taken away to be questioned over the suspicion that he had been using a fake passport.

As the man did not speak English, the police had requested the services of an interpreter but Cvetkovic had insisted on using another interpreter of his choosing.

Whilst being interrogated by prosecuting Inspector Frankie Sammut, Cvetkovic had attacked the inspector and asked to be examined by a psychiatrist. He was then taken to hospital for examination and had attempted to escape. Whilst he was being restrained he had injured a police constable.

The defence had argued that Cvetkovic had not been read his rights at the time of his arrest, but the court dismissed this argument, pointing out that this had happened because of language barriers and because taking him to hospital was a priority.

Neither did the court uphold the man’s argument that his real name was Boris Cakic and that therefore the charges were null. He had shown the court a number of photographs and documents showing that he was a serving soldier in the French Foreign Legion by the name of Boris Cakic.

The court said that the fact that he might be a foreign soldier did not exonerate him from responsibility for any crime that he might commit.

Cvetkovic was jailed for 1 year and fined €5,000, also being ordered to bear the costs of the case. A protection order was issued for the police inspector involved.

Categorie: Malta

More migrants jump from rescue ship off Italian island

The Malta Independent - 2 ore 50 min fa

More migrants jumped off the Spanish humanitarian rescue ship Open Arms Tuesday in a desperate bid to reach shore, tantalizingly near after 19 days blocked on board in deteriorating conditions by Italy's refusal to open its ports.

Open Arms described the situation on board as "out of control" and "desperate." After one migrant jumped ship earlier in the day and was rescued by the Italian coast guard, nine more launched themselves into the sea wearing orange life vests

A reporter with the Spanish public broadcaster TVE reporting from the NGO boat said that the earlier jumper refused to return to the Open Arms ship, and was brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa instead, apparently triggering the reaction of the nine who followed his lead. The reporter said that those jumping were "desperate and going mad" after 19 days trapped on board.

Open Arms said that the Italian coast guard managed to rescue all nine of the later group, but it was not immediately clear if they would also be taken to land.

Live video showed people wearing life vests floating in the sea, some in groups some individually, with a coast guard vessel nearby and rubber dinghies trying to reach them.

Open Arms confirmed that the first man who jumped, a Syrian national, was brought to Lampedusa. The group described the situation on board as "desperate," saying that a man threw himself into the water, trying to reach land that was in plain view, while at the same moment a woman suffered a panic attack.

The NGO's spokeswoman, Laura Lanuza, said she heard from Open Arms crew members that "those who remain aboard are threatening with jumping as well."

The Open Arms captain previously informed Italian authorities that the crew of 17 can no longer control the situation on board, as frustrated migrants resort to fighting.

Italy's hard-line interior minister has refused port access to the ship, even though six other European countries have agreed to take the passengers.

Categorie: Malta

Englishman grievously injured in collision between scooter and car in Msida

The Malta Independent - 3 ore 31 min fa

A 46-year-old motorcyclist has been admitted to hospital with grievous injuries following a traffic accident in Msida.

The accident took place in Triq il-Wied tal-Imsida, at around 8am, the police said.

The Englishman, who lives in Ghasri, Gozo, was riding a Piaggio Vespa that was involved in a collision with a Peugeot 308 driven by a 35-year-old man from Zurrieq.

The 46-year-old was taken to Mater Dei Hospital by ambulance.

The police are investigating.

Categorie: Malta

Updated: UK, EU harden their positions on Brexit as G7 approaches

The Malta Independent - 3 ore 58 min fa

Leaders of the U.K. and European Union hardened their positions Tuesday on whether it is possible to re-open Brexit negotiations, dimming prospects for any breakthrough ahead of a summit of G-7 leaders this weekend.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanded on Monday that the EU re-open Brexit negotiations, scrapping "anti-democratic" provisions for the Irish border that he says would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland. European Council chief Donald Tusk responded quickly and vigorously, defending the so-called backstop — an insurance policy of sorts meant to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

"Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border," Tusk tweeted Tuesday. "Even if they do not admit it."

The tweet reinforced the position of Ireland. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, after a one-hour call with Johnson on Monday, said the Brexit deal wouldn't be renegotiated.

Johnson is calling for an end to the backstop, which would keep Britain closely aligned with the European customs union if the two sides can't agree on other ways to prevent the reintroduction of border checks on people and goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Though the positions of both sides are unchanged, the timing is important.

Since taking office last month, Johnson has pledged Britain will leave the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, saying the only way to force European officials to negotiate is to make sure that leaving without an agreement is a real possibility. To that end, he wrote to the EU, underscoring his position only days before he plans to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday in Berlin and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday in Paris, before traveling to a summit of G-7 leaders this weekend in Biarritz, France.

But he is facing rising criticism of his Brexit strategy at home. A leaked report showed that the British government is preparing for widespread shortages of food, fuel and medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

"Now, of course, our friends and partners on the other side of the Channel are showing a little bit of reluctance at the moment to change their position," Johnson told Sky News on Monday. "That's fine - I'm confident that they will — but in the meantime we have to get ready for a no-deal outcome."

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, vowed Monday to do "everything necessary" to prevent the U.K. from leaving the EU without a deal. This includes calling a no-confidence vote in Johnson's government and, if it succeeds, fighting the ensuing general election with a pledge to hold a second public vote on Brexit.

"If MPs are serious about stopping a no-deal crash out, then they will vote down this reckless government," Corbyn said. "And it falls to the leader of the opposition to make sure no-deal does not happen and the people decide their own future."

Johnson and Corbyn are fighting for support in an increasingly fractious country where Brexit cuts across traditional party lines.

After a 2016 referendum in which the public voted to leave the EU, then-Prime Minister Theresa May spent more than two years negotiating a Brexit divorce agreement with the bloc. It was repeatedly rejected by Parliament, primarily because of concerns about keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Categorie: Malta

Man gets suspended sentence for causing wife to fear violence

The Malta Independent - 4 ore 14 min fa

A labourer from Zurrieq has received a suspended sentence for causing his wife to fear that he would be violent towards her, in what was described as a “one-off episode.”

Inspector Roderick Attard, prosecuting, told magistrate Nadine Lia that the police had received a phone call from the man’s wife yesterday, asking for assistance. Police had gone to the couple’s Zurrieq home and knocked on the front door. After knocking for a long time, the accused had opened the front door, said the inspector.

The wife had explained that there had been a course of conduct leading to her fearing the man would be violent towards her. A firearm, which was not believed to have been used in the incident, was also seized from the property.

The accused pleaded guilty to the solitary charge of causing the woman to fear violence.

His lawyer, Marion Camilleri, told the court that it was a “one-off episode” and pointed out that there were no pending separation proceedings in relation to the couple. She pushed for a conditional discharge, saying that this would still leave a punishment dangling over his head.

The court, however, opted to sentence the man to 5 months imprisonment, suspended for 1 year. It also bound him to keep the peace with his wife for 1 year or pay a penalty of €1000.

Categorie: Malta

Watch: Flamingo delights swimmers at Ghadira Bay

The Malta Independent - 4 ore 29 min fa

Swimmers at Ghadira Bay were delighted by the presence of a flamingo on the beach.

Many took photos and this particular video was uploaded by Gabriel Micallef on Facebook.

BirdLife Malta officials were informed and the flamingo was taken for tests.

Categorie: Malta

Man seriously injured after falling off ladder

The Malta Independent - 4 ore 42 min fa

A man was taken to hospital with serious injuries after falling off a ladder in Mellieha, the police said.

The accident took place in Qasam Barrani Street at 8.40am.

The 57-year-old man from Mosta fell off the ladder while doing a job at the primary school.

Categorie: Malta

Six road fatalities in second quarter 2019 – NSO

The Malta Independent - 5 ore 19 min fa

During the second quarter of 2019, the Maltese roads registered six road traffic fatalities.

The number of reported traffic accidents during the second quarter this year amounted to 3,818, a marginal decrease of 0.5 per cent over the corresponding period in 2018. The Northern Harbour district registered the largest share of all road traffic accidents with 1,405 cases or 36.8 per cent of all accidents.

Road traffic casualties declined by 10.4 per cent to 421 over the same period in 2018. Grievously injured persons consisted of 50 drivers, 13 passengers and 22 pedestrians/cyclists/other persons. The injuries suffered by three drivers and three passengers proved fatal (Tables 4-6). In comparison, the number of road traffic fatalities were three less than those recorded during the same quarter in 2018. The total number of road traffic fatalities during the first six months this year amounted to seven.

When classified by gender, the majority of the 85 grievously injured persons were males (69.4 per cent). The fatalities comprised of two males and four females. Moreover, most of the recorded traffic casualties fell in the 41 to 59 age bracket.

The majority of the road traffic casualties (62.2 per cent) involved passenger cars, followed by motorcycles (27.1 per cent) and goods-carrying vehicles (5.7 per cent). The six fatalities consisted of two car drivers, two passengers, a motorcyclist and a pillion rider. Five cyclists were involved in vehicle collisions, of which three sustained grievous injuries. Road traffic casualties caused by collisions between vehicles topped the list with 74.8 per cent of the total. 

The highest road traffi  c casualty and road traffi  c accident rates occurred on Thursdays with 66 casualties and 606 accidents respectively. The time bracket during which most road traffic accidents occurred was between 12:00 and 14:59 with 841 cases or 22.0 per cent of the total, followed by the 09:00-11:59 time bracket with 812 cases. The least number of accidents occurring daily took place between 03:00 and 05:59 with 73 cases. 

The highest number of road traffic accidents by locality was registered in Birkirkara with 312 cases. Ħal Qormi and St Paul’s Bay were next, with 215 and 178 reported accidents respectively.

Categorie: Malta

Are Malta’s priorities right? 35,692 can’t afford heating, but only 9,514 can’t afford a car

The Malta Independent - 5 ore 55 min fa

Recent statistics released as part of the EU-SILC exercise revealed that while 35,692 households cannot afford to keep their home adequately warm during winter, only 9,514 households cannot afford a car – statistics which beg the question; are the priorities of the Maltese people in the wrong place?

Speaking to The Malta Independent, sociologist Michael Briguglio said that the answer to such a question is as much down to Malta’s society being warped, as it is down to there not being many feasible alternatives to the car.

The European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) is an annual survey carried out by the National Statistics Office which takes into account various indicators to reach conclusions on poverty and material deprivation.

To ascertain how many people are in a situation of material deprivation or severe material deprivation, households are asked whether they can afford certain things ranging from an annual week-long holiday, to unexpected financial expenses, to heating their homes adequately in winter.

While the expense of an annual week-long holiday is a particularly high expense – reflected in the fact that 142,871 persons (30.6%) said that they cannot afford it – other points are less expensive. 

In the case of two categories in particular, 35,692 said that their household cannot afford to keep the home adequately warm in winter while 26,688 said that their household cannot afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish, or a vegetarian equivalent every second day. Meanwhile however, only 9,514 people reported that their household could not afford a car.

The discrepancy between these categories – both in terms of the number of persons who cannot afford them, and in the financial burden that they generate on the family budget – is substantial.

Asked about the discrepancy, Briguglio pinned the matter largely down to two elements.  Firstly, he said, Malta is a “car-addicted society” and said that the car in and of itself is now an inherent part of our culture and is even a sort of identity for some people.

However, he noted, there is another facet to take into consideration when analysing this matter. He said that many people have no feasible alternative for a car for various activities, hence meaning that the car is seen by many Maltese as an essential commodity to the point that they may be ready to prioritise a loan on a car or a car’s upkeep over heating the household during winter.

The very fact that the car holds such a part of some people’s identity and culture means that one cannot say that car use would disappear if Malta had the best public transport in the world, he noted.  However, he said, policy makers need to clarify whether their policies are actually making them even more dependent on cars.  Briguglio pointed out that the government’s policies today seem to be doing that.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna had even said this in a press conference earlier this month, saying that the widening of roads is “probably” encouraging private care use, “but has also encouraged public transport.”

Briguglio said that if there is a more reliable public transport system along with other modes of transport such as cycling and walking being prioritised then it could mean that people will spend less money on cars and more on other essential things.

“Our policies are simply accepting the fact that cars are on the increase, widening roads, and putting forward policies which simply seem to satisfy the appetite of the purchase of cars, whereas in reality we should be looking at sustainable policies”, he lamented.

He criticised the PN spokesperson for Transport MP Toni Bezzina for his statement where he said that the government will soon attempt to limit car licenses by either withdrawing them from people or capping the number of cars on Malta’s roads, saying that attempts should not be made to alarm people with such things, but to go forward with sustainable alternatives.

He said that this statement, along with the reply of the government had proven that the “car is king”.

He said that what is also very worrying in these figures as a whole is that they show that while the economy is growing, a point on which he praised the government, the social and environmental factors that pertain to sustainability are not progressing as well as the economy is, noting that Malta’s minimum wage rise is one of the lowest in Europe while the price of essential items continues to rise.

Finally, he noted that surveys such as the EU-SILC as carried out by the NSO should be coupled with qualitative research carried out by sociologists, anthropologists, or other professionals so to ascertain the reasons behind such statistical patterns.

Qualitative research and going beyond the figures in the survey would help understand the everyday lifestyle of persons and to help ascertain why they are choosing to spend money on one thing as opposed to another.

 

Categorie: Malta

July temperatures soar as almost 12 hours of sunshine per day recorded

The Malta Independent - 6 ore 2 min fa

The record-breaking summer heat, which saw temperatures across the Maltese Islands reach 37.8°C in June, showed no signs of cooling off in July. In fact, the average temperatures recorded on 22 out of a total of 31 days last month exceeded the climate norm of 26.6°C, the MIA said in a statement.

The maximum temperature for July was registered at the height of a heatwave between the 8th and 10th of the month, when the mercury hit 39.6°C on July 9th. The 5th and the 20th of July, on the other hand, proved to be a breath of fresh air to the islands, when temperatures dropped to a minimum of 21°C. The mean sea temperature was also over one degree warmer than the climate norm, standing at 26.4°C.

As the mean total cloud cover for the month fell below average, standing at 0.8 oktas, a warmer-than-average July brought with it above-average hours of sunshine. 368.3 hours of bright sunshine were recorded throughout the month, surpassing the climate norm by 4.2 hours. While July registered a mean of 11.9 hours of sunshine daily, the brightest day was July 4th when a total of 13.1 hours of sunshine were recorded.

Despite the spike in temperatures, July was not as dry as expected, with 0.8mm of precipitation being recorded throughout the month by the Met Office. July was also slightly windier than expected, exceeding the climate norm of 6.8 knots by 0.6 knots.

Categorie: Malta

Abandoned? Neglected? The sites being left behind

The Malta Independent - 6 ore 55 min fa

Malta has some truly prestigious historical sites. Site that marvel Maltese and tourists alike, such as the Ggantija and Tarxien temples, and ones that remind us about just how old Malta is, like the Hypogeum.

There are sites documenting the Roman era, the Knights of St John, and the British. So much history on a small island located at the centre of the Mediterranean. But maintaining so many historical sites does not come cheap, and sadly some have been left aside and forgotten.

Top, Fort Ricasoli; Above, Fort San Leonardo

One such example is Fort Campbell, located quite close to Selmun Palace, which is also in quite a state.

Some other sites are not quite in a dilapidated state yet, but are not easily accessible to the public, and perhaps more could be done to find uses that would allow such access.

Fort San Salvatore

Others, like Fort Ricasoli, were left in a state of disrepair for many years, but finally plans have been announced to restore it.

Our history is our most precious asset. It instils a sense of national pride, reminds us from where we came and can guide us to where we are going. It would be a shame if some of these areas were just left to fall apart.

Photos: Alenka Falzon

Fort Campbell (above) and Selmun Tower (below)

Categorie: Malta

Sliema fire: 'I was expecting thick smoke but it felt like I was inhaling something poisonous'

The Malta Independent - 7 ore 49 min fa

As they quickly ran down the staircase of their apartment block, Hannah Scicluna felt scared when she realised just how thick the fire’s smoke truly was.

Hannah, along with her family, were just some of the residents who were evacuated Sunday night from their apartment block whilst CPD fire-fighters were extinguishing a fire that broke out that evening.

The fire was reported at around 9:30pm in Bisazza Street, Sliema. There were two fires, one which was in a shop below an apartment block and another in the common area of an apartment block. It has been reported that the cause of the fire was due to problems with a main electricity supply.

“I was expecting a thick smell of smoke but I felt like I was inhaling something poisonous. With every breath I honestly felt like I didn’t want to take another one,” she said.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Hannah explained what exactly happened yesterday evening as the fire broke out in their apartment block. She is just one resident of many who had to quickly exit the building.

“At around half nine the electricity cut in our apartment, and after my mother checked that it wasn’t from the circuit breaker, she went downstairs to check the mains.” Not long after, her mother rushed back up to the apartment breathless and screaming that there was a fire and that they had to leave right away.

“As soon as she told us there was a fire, I immediately called 112 and remained on the phone with them the whole time as we ran downstairs.”

As they closed the bedroom windows and grabbed their dogs, they began to run downstairs, screaming and banging on the neighbours’ doors. Hannah explained that their apartment is on the sixth floor of a building which all together has ten floors in all.

“We hoped that by screaming and shouting, the residents above our floor would hear us.”

After her family were out of the building, some neighbours came out a few minutes after them; one of them falling to the floor coughing and another flushed with confusion about what was happening.

“Civil Protection Department officials were on the scene within 10 minutes, and the ambulance checked us all for carbon monoxide. Some of us were fine, whilst others had elevated levels and needed oxygen.”

The feeling amongst the residents was one of fear and shock. “I can’t begin to describe the shock I’m still feeling. I was crying once we were out and very worried.”

No resident was injured and currently nobody is residing in the apartment block. “We won’t be home for a few days, as currently there is no electricity and barely any running water. It will also take some time to fix the main electrical supply, as it is completely torched.” She said that currently Enemalta are checking the entrance of the flat, cleaning and fixing the main electrical supply.

She thanked the members of the Civil Protection Department for their work, who were on the scene within minutes. She hopes speaking up about what happened will make people take more precautions within their apartment buildings. “Apartment owners must be more aware that this could happen to them.”

Categorie: Malta

Salvadoran suspected of having abortion acquitted at retrial

The Malta Independent - 8 ore 18 min fa

A young rape victim who was suspected of having an abortion and charged with homicide was acquitted by a judge at a retrial Monday in a case that attracted international attention to El Salvador's strict abortion laws.

Evelyn Beatriz Hernández, now 21, had served 33 months of a 30-year prison sentence when her conviction was overturned in February for lack of evidence and a new trial was ordered. Prosecutors had asked for a 40-year sentence.

The retrial was a first for such a case in the Central American nation, where prosecutors aggressively pursue legal cases against women who have miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies, accusing them of murder.

"Thank God, justice was done," Hernández said following the announcement of the verdict, visibly emotional as dozens of women waited at the courthouse. "I also thank you who have been present here."

"Yes we did!" the women chanted.

Hernández also thanked foreign diplomats who have followed the case closely. The Associated Press usually does not name victims of alleged sexual assault, but Hernández has spoken publicly about her case.

Hernández's fetus was at 32 weeks in 2016 when she felt intense abdominal pains and delivered it into an outdoor toilet, and it was later found lifeless in a septic tank. Her mother said she found her passed out next to the latrine, and Hernández said she didn't know she was pregnant.

Both women said they didn't know there was a fetus in the tank, but prosecutors didn't believe them and pressed charges. Forensic experts were unable to determine whether it died in the uterus or in the septic tank.

At the retrial, prosecutors' argument against Hernández was commission by omission — that is, she failed to protect her fetus.

"We believe the judge has been very fair in his ruling," defense lawyer Bertha María Deleón said. "He has said that there was no way to prove a crime and for that reason he absolved her."

El Salvador is one of three Central American nations with total bans on abortion. Women convicted of having abortions face sentences of two to eight years.

But women who turn up at public hospitals following a miscarriage are sometimes accused of having killed the fetus and charged with aggravated homicide, which carries a sentence of 30 to 40 years. Such punishments often fall on poor, young women and victims of rape.

"This is a resounding victory for the rights of women in El Salvador. It reaffirms that no woman should be wrongly accused of homicide for the simple fact of suffering an obstetric emergency," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Guevara-Rosas called on El Salvador to cease "criminalizing women once and for all by immediately revoking the nation's draconian anti-abortion laws."

El Salvador is a deeply religious country with 80% of the population identifying as Catholic or evangelical Christian. It's also home to macho attitudes on women's role in society, as well as widespread gang violence.

"We judge cases based on religious convictions, often for things that should never enter in a courtroom," defense lawyer Arnau Baulenas said.

"We have to stop using justice to respond to social needs," Baulenas added. "Justice should do its work with criminals, not innocent people."

Every year an estimated 25,000 women are impregnated after rapes in the country of just over 6 million. It is believed that thousands of clandestine abortions are carried out each year in El Salvador.

Recent polls have shown broad support for more lenient abortion laws, though many in the country believe rape victims should be made to carry pregnancies to term.

Hernández's case was seen as a test for women's reproductive rights under new President Nayib Bukele, who has said he believes abortion is acceptable only when the mother's life is at risk but that he opposes criminalizing women who have miscarriages.

"If a poor woman has a miscarriage, she's immediately suspected of having had an abortion," Bukele said in 2018. "We can't assume guilt when what a woman needs is immediate assistance."

Categorie: Malta

The Mediterranean Sea: A biodiversity and plastic hotspot - marine biologist

The Malta Independent - 8 ore 40 min fa

Despite only covering around 1% of the global ocean surface area, the Mediterranean Sea hosts around 10% of all marine species in the world, marine biologist and University academic Alan Deidun told The Malta Independent.

Deidun said that while the Mediterranean flourishes with such biodiversity, it is also a plastic hotspot, being one of the areas in the world most affected and polluted due to the high concentration of plastics found.

The Malta Independent met with Deidun to discuss how the Mediterranean Sea has changed due to further urbanisation of the countries around it, and the damage caused by single use plastics.

 “Plastic has become man’s blueprint. It damages the Mediterranean, and damages sectors which are heavily reliant on the Mediterranean Sea,” explained Deidun. “Aesthetically, macro litter is bad for business where the sea plays a vital tool, as plastic litter is an eyesore.” He goes on to explain that once this litter sinks to the seabed, it smothers marine communities such as coral, and ultimately traps them.

“We have gone down 300 meters behind Filfla, and all you see are whole coral communities blanked with nylon rope from previous fishing seasons, where nylon ropes are cut and are not recovered.”

The biggest threat of all is micro and nano plastics, which end up in our food chain, he said.

“The smaller pieces of plastic are then absorbed or eaten by zooplankton, which are then consumed by smaller fish, which after time end up on our plate. In most recent studies, plastic particles have been found in human stool for the first time. We need to be more concerned about our marine life, even if it is from a selfish perspective; as the waste we are throwing into the sea is the same waste we will consume.”

Would you say there is enough focus on the importance of the sea and the marine biodiversity?

The public’s perception of marine environment is quite anonymous, and at times the sea is really overlooked. Although we are an island our marine area is very big, and just taking into consideration our territorial waters the ratio is 14.1 - all this without considering the fisheries zone or search and rescue area. When we discuss environmental issues and climate change, we must see what is happening to our seas and we should have a much greater interest and appreciation on the role the ocean plays in our lives.

We normally think of trees providing us oxygen, but at least half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean, where we find phytoplankton producing oxygen,

Subconsciously we have a link to the sea, as we draw ourselves closer to the presence of the sea which can bring about feelings of nostalgia and memories. The sea has both a direct and indirect tie to the island’s economy. Directly - fishing, aquaculture, whilst indirectly - tourists come to our beaches, and restaurants serve the daily catch of the fishermen. There is also a booming diving industry. Many Maltese do not know enough about the sea and are hesitant to learn more.

 

What changes have you seen in the past 10-20 years in marine biodiversity due to climate change?

As temperatures continue to rise, this has an impact on our seas. It is the third consecutive summer, where by the end of it we will see the water temperatures going as high as above 30 degrees. There is no exact maximum threshold as to how high the temperature can go up before causing damage, but we do know that there are some species which suffer when the temperatures rise; especially species found in shallow areas where it gets very hot. Many algae disappear by the end of summer. Also when there is a prolonged heat wave, a mass of hot water sits on cold water; and over time the hot water pushes further down and ends up effecting species which are normally oblivious to such high temperatures.

Another main impact of climate change would be the invasion of alien species entering the Mediterranean Sea and causing harm to our native marine life. Most alien species keep a low profile and are not always an issue, but then there are a few, such as the lionfish, which displace the native species and have an ecological impact which can translate into having a bigger economical crash. There are also harmful algae which are harming the sea grass species, such as the posidonia, the lung of our Mediterranean Sea. The sea grass is vital as it keeps the sea transparent, provides oxygen and is also a place for other species to lay their eggs. This grass covers less than 2% of the Mediterranean. Anchoring and pollution harms these meadows as well.

Going back to the lionfish, there was also a time when one could buy a lionfish in a pet shop and release it back into the sea, not being aware of the harm or impact on the biodiversity. Another example of this is the release of crayfish into fresh water valleys, such as Chadwick Lakes, which they are running a riot and impacting indigenous species such as the native frog and fresh water crab. We must continue to raise awareness and monitor aquarium releases and customer behaviour.

You said that we see alien species entering our waters, but do we ever see our own native species migrating and moving to other parts of the Mediterranean?

In terms of our own native species we have a particular species of fish, the salema, better known as xilpa which is slowly being replaced by the alien rabbit fish. The native fish are moving yes; so now we find that species which were exclusively known in the East Mediterranean are now moving west, whilst those known in the South are moving north. This could also be happening with the dolphin fish, lampuki because catches have dwindled in recent years and this might be because there are more fishermen moving in our area catching this fish. Previously Maltese fishermen were specialised in catching this fish, but now there are other nationalities. It might be that this fish is moving because its prey species are also travelling through different routes; therefore their own routes are changing.

 

Does the overcrowding of beaches during the summer impact our marine life?

The main issue of overcrowding would be trampling, on both land and sea. On land coastal communities, we see that the native sand dunes, gharam tar- ramel, over time have been trampled on, either by people driving over them or camping on them. Currently one can find such sand dune ramilites on few beaches such as Golden Bay, Ramla l-Hamra in Gozo, the Bird Sanctuary in Ghadira and Santa Marija in Comino.An example of trampling at sea would be when one finds fragile communities such as algae or coral found on a shallow reef and people would trample over them.

Another issue apart from overcrowding would be the ever-increasing number of boats during the summer months. Anchoring destroys sea grasses and leaves shallow holes behind, and dumping the discharge of the boat pollutes the sea. One must also remember that the noise caused by the boats are amplified underwater, and many times scares or disorientates slow moving species. Such boats also end up colliding with migrating animals; earlier this summer we had a loggerhead turtle hit by a boat propeller. Although Nature Trust rescued the turtle it ended up dying due to injuries.

What can one do to decrease the harm and damage being caused to the Mediterranean Sea?

I would start from the very basics; that being raising more awareness and fostering a more ocean literate society. Ocean literacy is all about making people more aware about the ocean’s role in our lives. One example would be how the ocean plays a role as a climate regulator, taking the heat from the tropics to the poles to regulate the temperature. If this were to switch off, we would see extreme changes in our climate. 

We need to remember that the impacts of climate change are not exclusive to the land. if we have a healthier ocean, we have a better chance of fighting climate change. We should not take our sea for granted, and always be prepared for any massive pollution event which can affect us negatively, such as a massive oil spill. We are to a certain extent prepared, as there is constant training happening and there is partnership between University and Civil Protection, where training is being handled.

Such preparation is extremely important, especially since we get 60 per cent of our drinking water from the sea; so god forbid there ever is a massive oil spill.

 

 

 

 

 

Categorie: Malta

Malta-born priest’s testimony key part of appeal filed by convicted Australian cardinal

The Malta Independent - 9 ore 3 min fa

Cardinal George Pell's (photo above) appeal against his convictions for child molestation was largely a question of who the jury should have believed, his accuser or a senior priest whose church role was likened to Pell's bodyguard.

Pell's accuser was a 13-year-old choirboy when he alleged that he was abused by then-Melbourne Archbishop Pell at the city's St. Patrick's Cathedral in December 1996 and February 1997. Monsignor Charles Portelli was a master of ceremonies at the 11 a.m. Sunday Masses where the choir sang.

A chorister in the 1990s, David Dearing, told police that Portelli, Pell's right-hand man, was always with the archbishop "like his bodyguard."

When the jury of eight men and four women that convicted Pell began their deliberations, they asked to see again video recordings of the testimonies of both the complainant, who cannot be identified, and Portelli.

Portelli had testified that he had been with Pell chatting to churchgoers on the steps of the cathedral on the only two Sundays in December 1996 when Pell could potentially have been molesting the two choirboys. His testimony that Pell was on the steps in the moments for around 10 minutes after those Masses has been described as alibi evidence.

The Maltese-born immigrant also testified that he would have seen Pell squeeze a choirboy's genitals as he shoved the teen against a cathedral wall if the indecent assault had happened after a Mass in February 1997 as the complainant had testified.

"To do so, he (Pell) would have had to push in front of me," Portelli said in a television interview in April, in which he said Pell was innocent.

Portelli also revealed that Pell phoned him the day his testimony ended in November to apologize for the grilling he received from prosecutors. Portelli said prosecutor Mark Gibson tried to undermine his credibility as the prosecution had the witness before him, 85-year-old sacristan Max Potter, who was in charge of the priests' changing room where the complainant had alleged he and another choirboy had been molested.

"They had tried to bamboozle him (Potter) with dates and secondary questions and so on and the cardinal apologized to me by saying, 'I'm sorry they tried to do the same to you,'" Portelli told Sky television.

Prosecutor Chris Boyce told the appeals court in June that Portelli's memory appeared to be clearer when he answered defense lawyers' questions than when he was questioned by the prosecution.

Boyce accused Portelli of assisting the defense by purporting to not have memories that he had when questioned by Pell's lawyers.

Pell's lawyer Bret Walker told the appeals court that the prosecution never suggested to the jury that Portelli was lying, partisan or lacked reliability.

"Monsignor Portelli deserved better, with respect, than the way his evidence was criticized and belittled in terms of its importance for your honors' independent assessment," Walker told the three appeals judges, who are to issue their ruling Wednesday.

Portelli had said he was always with Pell during the Masses in question and helped the archbishop robe and disrobe.

Portelli was a heavy smoker in the 1990s. Gibson suggested to the jury that Portelli might have gone outside the cathedral to smoke a cigarette, leaving Pell to enter the sacristy alone and abuse the boys.

But the suggestion was withdrawn because Portelli was never asked if he had left Pell alone to smoke and the trial heard no evidence to suggest that he had.

Boyce said the complainant's testimony stood up to more than eight hours of questioning. Boyce drew the judges' attention to a video recording of a particular section of the complainant's questioning by Pell's lawyers.

"The responses that you see there ... and the manner in which they're delivered, at the end of those, one puts down one's pen and stares blankly at the screen and is moved," Boyce said.

"At that point, ... any doubt that one might have about that account ... is removed," he added.

Appeals Justice Mark Weinberg told Boyce there were plenty of cases in which appeals courts had said the complainant was credible and appeared truthful, but that the verdicts were unsafe because of other evidence and improbability.

The complainant's credibility was only "the beginning of the process," Weinberg said.

"We have to consider the evidence as a whole, every bit of it," the judge added.

The 78-year-old former Vatican finance minister would walk free if the three judges acquit him of the five convictions. They also could order a retrial, in which case Pell would be released on bail, or they could reject his appeal.

Pell has been in a Melbourne prison since March when he was sentenced to six years for convictions on charges that he orally raped a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealt with the boy and the boy's 13-year-old friend in a rear room of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in December 1996. He was also convicted of squeezing one of the boy's genitals in a cathedral corridor in February 1997.

Pell had become archbishop of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, months before his crimes are alleged to have taken place and had set up a world-first compensation arrangement for victims of clergy sexual abuse. He was described at his trial as the Vatican's third most senior cleric.

 

Categorie: Malta

Patience wears thin for migrants stranded off Italian coast

The Malta Independent - 9 ore 15 min fa

The Spanish rescue ship Open Arms resorted to serving pizzas to 107 increasingly angry and sometimes aggressive migrants who are stranded aboard, as Italy's interior minister stuck to his refusal to let the vessel dock at a nearby Italian island in a weekslong standoff.

The migrants were rescued from traffickers' boats in the Mediterranean off Libya and have spent 18 days aboard the Open Arms as they wait to see whether anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini will let them disembark on Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island south of Sicily. Six other European Union countries have agreed to take the passengers.

A day earlier, Open Arms' captain informed Italian authorities that the crew of 17 could no longer control the situation aboard, as frustrated migrants resort to fighting.

Separately, the organization's founder, Oscar Camps, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday night from Lampedusa, that "it is not a question of how long we can hold out. No one knows what will happen."

"At every instant we must stop fights, aggression, arguments, hunger strikes and stop people from jumping into the sea," exactly like several migrants did a day earlier in a foiled bid to reach the island, he said.

When the migrants were brought back aboard, major fights broke out among the passengers "because they had put the others at risk," Camps added.

In a bid to vary the migrants' food and improve their mood, some of the crew went to the island and returned with 100 pizzas, Camps said. "We have tried everything" to keep spirits calm, he added.

Asked if Open Arms might follow the example of a German captain who defied Salvini's ban and steered a boat packed with migrants to Lampedusa this summer, Camps said he would not.

"We have no intention in disobeying, we have scrupulously compiled with maritime law," he said.

The German captain was arrested but later released after an Italian judge ruled that she was saving the lives of the 40 migrants aboard.

Open Arms sailed within a few hundred meters of Lampedusa last week after winning a court ruling overturning Salvini's ban on private rescue boats entering Italy's territorial waters. Salvini has appealed that ruling and warned that the ban on docking still holds.

The boat is currently anchored off Lampedusa's coast.

Camps said Italy's coast guard offered to transport some of the migrants to Spain, but Open Arms insisted they must take everyone aboard.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, whose ministry includes the coast guard, said Italy also offered to escort Open Arms to a Spanish port, but the ship "incredibly refused" that offer, too.

Earlier in the day, Open Arms' president, Riccardo Gatti, suggested that the migrants could be transferred to the major Sicilian city of Catania, where a chartered plane could then fly the 107 migrants to Spain.

Open Arms captain Marc Reig Creus told Italian authorities Sunday that if Italy won't let the ship dock at Lampedusa, it would agree to transferring the migrants to another boat that could make the several days' journey to the port Spain had initially proposed, Algeciras, at the far west end of the Mediterranean.

Open Arms has only two toilets, and last week volunteers who visited the ship said some migrants were forced to use areas where they eat for their bathroom needs.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the government had offered to help the Open Arms with food, fuel and medical attention for the journey to Spain.

"We believe that once the migrants have peace of mind and know that they will navigate to a safe and open port, like the one Spain is offering, this situation will calm down," she said. "But the answer was that they (Open Arms) insist on entering Italy."

Camps, in explaining the refusal, said: "We could have done it on Day 1 or 2, but not on Day 18 when we have exhausted our resources," psychologically. "It can't be fixed with a little food, fuel and pats on the back" for a four-day journey, he said, calling conditions on the ship "inhuman."

Earlier on Monday, Open Arms nixed a follow-up offer by Spain to go to a closer port in the Balearic Islands.

Salvini's popularity is soaring among his voter base, which blames illegal migrants for crime.

"Why doesn't Open Arms go to Spain?" he tweeted. "In 18 days, they could have gone back and forth three times from Ibiza and Formentera," two Balearic islands.

Last week, 40 migrants and some family members were allowed to leave Open Arms because they were deemed to be minors, ailing or psychologically troubled.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated by two French humanitarian groups and has 356 rescued migrants aboard, has been sailing between Malta and the Italian island of Linosa as it waits for a port of safety to be assigned

Categorie: Malta