Over a thousand people turned up for a protest in Attard this morning against the uprooting of trees as part of the Central Link project.
The protestors were seen tied to trees, holding placards, forming human chains, and cleaning up the area of Mdina road, from the petrol station all the way up to the Chapel of Our Lady of Victories.
Towards the end of the protest, some even blocked the road while clapping and chanting ‘Viva s-sigar.’
Recently, the Planning Authority approved the controversial Central Link project, that would see over 500 trees uprooted, a number of which are protected species.The Central Link project will take up some 49,000 square metres of agricultural land.
The mood of the protest was generally peaceful with passing drivers hooting their horns cheering the protestors on, although there were the odd ones who jeered at those protesting.
One of the organisers, who was using a megaphone to cheer the crowd on, said he was “shocked” at the large turnout and that they were expecting less people to turn up. He said the protest was held as a reaction to the approval of the Central Link project and more importantly a symbolic demonstration against the fact that Malta is being taken for granted and turned into a concrete jungle.
A protestor who was tied to a tree said that Malta has an “alarming” lack of trees. He said the project is “absurd” and what is needed is a modal shift from using cars to other modes of transport.
He said that “if I can compare this project, I will compare it to a very obese person that needs to get on a strict diet. What we are telling him, no problem, we will just widen your belt.”
When asked if tying himself to a tree is a solution, he noted that for him it was personal, since as child he used to pass the trees every single day. “To think they are going to be chopped down for something as mundane as more cars and traffic that is a personal thing for me and I oppose it fundamentally.”
Activist Cami Appelgren was also at the protest and said that the biggest achievement of the protest is that people are starting to wake up. “We might not achieve the project to be put off but at least we show the nation that people are starting to become more environmentally aware.”
People are not scared to say exactly what they believe in, Appelgren said and that is a big change for Malta. She said that such projects need to be done in a different way. Widening roads is not a solution, she added.
Appelgren said she was very happy with the turnout and saw a lot of new faces. Several people approached her telling her that they had never been to something like this before but they felt very emotional about the trees being chopped down.
Professor Christian Scerri from the Attard Residents Environmental Network (AREN) also said that the amount of people who turned up for the protest should make a big difference. The authorities should take heed and go back to the drawing board to find other sustainable alternatives to minimise the environmental impact.
Scerri, who is also is also a cancer specialist, emphasised that pollution is one of the biggest problems in Malta with respect to health and if it is tackled properly, not by widening roads as this adds to the cars on the road, it will benefit the country.
PN MP David Agius was present at the protest and was asked if his presence, considering the organisers emphasised a non-partisan protest, could be seen as a hinderance said “I am an Attard resident, living here for over 20 years, jogging in the streets. I love Attard and I love Malta. Being a politician comes second.”
Agius said that the protest today will give a message to the government to go back to the drawing board and change its plans. There are other options, he noted, and we can save all these trees.
In a statement, the protest organisers said that they would like to thank everyone who showed their support.
“This action was a clear appeal from a group of citizens with a message for our country’s leaders: stop killing us. Our environment is not frivolous. Our quality of life is dependent on it, and our health is being threatened,” the organiser’s said.
They asked “how long must we stand aside and watch the Maltese countryside being defiled for the greed of the few?”
The organiser’s emphasised that they are group of citizens with no affiliation to any party. “The only thing that unites us is a common hope for a better environment, for a better country that will result in a better life for all those who live on our island,” they said.
“We feel humbled to have had the opportunity to unite to share our message and our anger at what is happening in a peaceful manner. That said, we cannot ignore the pitiful attempts that were made by partisan forces to undermine our work. We declare that the environment is truly for everyone and we refuse to stoop down to banality or word-twisting to murky our message of hope.”
Photos above: Alenka Falzon