Updated | Bormla wins Regatta Shield for 17th time in history

Malta celebrates the 38th anniversary since the last of the British forces left Malta for good

Seven towns and cities battle it out on the calm water of the Grand Harbour to claim the Regatta Shield
Seven towns and cities battle it out on the calm water of the Grand Harbour to claim the Regatta Shield

Malta today celebrated Freedom Day, with the traditional Regatta in Grand Harbour once again taking centre stage, as Cospicua beat six other clubs and rowed to victory to claim the coveted Regatta Shield for the 17th time.

Cospicua managed to hold on to last year’s title and clinched the victory after winning the race known as “tal-kajjiki” in the senior category.

Last year, the Blues won the 31 March regatta, with Marsa a distant second, followed by Senglea.

Each year, Birzebbugia, Cospicua, Kalkara, Marsa, Marsamxett, Senglea and Vittoriosa compete against other in this and the more popular 8 September regattas.

Earlier, the President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca joined Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil for the traditional wreath-laying commemoration ceremony at the foot of the Freedom Day Memorial in Vittoriosa.

The ceremony ended with the playing of the Maltese national anthem by the band of the Armed Forces of Malta.

The road to freedom

Freedom Day celebrates the anniversary of withdrawal of British troops and the Royal Navy from Malta in 1979.

Following a constitutional referendum, Malta became an independent Constitutional Monarchy in 1964, with the Queen Elizabeth II as a head of state.

The Labour Party won the general elections in 1971 and it immediately set out to re-negotiate the military and financial agreements in place with the UK. A new agreement was signed and the British troops left the territory of Malta on April 1, 1979.

The 1989 clashes

Unfortunately, not all 31 March celebrations went by without incident as the political tension in the 1980s often led to clashes between supporters of the different political parties and often including the police and – sometimes – even the Armed Forces.

In 1989, the commander of the Armed Forces, John Spiteri, who was also acting police commissioner at the time, was forced to jump into the sea in Vittoriosa when an enraged mob stormed the officers when the Freedom Day march began to blare from the overlying speakers placed by the Malta Labour Party.

The crowd headed for Spiteri, who was quite unpopular, and the commander was forced to jump into Vittoriosa Creek to escape, after the police and soldiers were quickly overrun.

In an opinion piece in another newspaper today, the author claims to have seen a man pointed a firearm at Spiteri after he had been forced to jump into the sea.

Pictures also surfaced on Facebook, posted by Joseph Spiteri (any relation with John Spiteri unknown) showing riot police using teargas to disperse the crowd.

In another set of photos, a man seen holding something in his hand and confronting the police is highlighted by a red circle and then appears to fall to the ground after being subdued.

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