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Malta gains her independence

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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This edited article about Malta originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 979 published on 13 December 1980.

fireworks, picture, image, illustration

Independence Day in Malta is celebrated with a firework display, by Angus McBride

At 11 a.m. on April 1, 1979, the British destroyer HMS London weighed anchor beneath the pale gold walls of her Valetta berth and led a troop carrier from the Grand Harbour of Malta, thus ending an association with Britain of nearly 180 years.

It was the climax of a weekend of farewells to the British. The night before fireworks lit up the night sky above bunting-clad streets where merrymakers danced the hours away. The dawn brought mixed emotions. Many elderly islanders cherished fond memories of British rule. They were quietly proud that their tiny speck in the Mediterranean had earned the George Cross for defying Germany’s air attacks in the last war.

Then British convoys braved a curtain of fire and bombs from the Luftwaffe’s screaming Stukas to reach the island with much needed supplies. In April, 1942, alone the Germans dropped 16,000 tons of bombs on Malta causing heavy casualties and damage.

Yet the long association with Britain meant little to the Maltese who grew up after the war. The idea of independence inspired ready support from them. Their wishes were granted in 1964, to be followed 10 years later by the creation of an island republic within the Commonwealth.

The aftermath of independence heralded an era of uncertainty until, in 1976, the Nationalist Party government of Dr Borg Olivier, which had maintained friendly ties with Britain for many years, was defeated by the Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff.

The new prime minister campaigned relentlessly to rid Malta of all vestiges of the British presence. And so, on that historic day in 1979, the British Navy finally left Valetta harbour, once so crowded with British warships. Mr Mintoff sought foreign investment to cover the loss of the money paid by Britain and Nato for the use of bases on the island, which had been worth about 30 million pounds a year. China and Libya are among countries which have provided technical or financial aid.

One steady source of income for the island comes from tourism. Anyone visiting the city of Valetta and looking at the view across the Grand Harbour will be vividly reminded of the battles that took place there in the past and of the courage and determination possessed by the Maltese people.

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