Updated 5.15pm with Graffitti, Ombudsman statements.

Officials from four government entities converged on St George's Square in Victoria on Thursday to order the removal of tables and chairs which were not within permitted spaces.

The action by the Lands Authority, the Planning Authority, the Malta Tourism Authority, and the Police followed months of protests by the archpriest of St George parish and NGOs about the square having been 'taken over,' restricting access and even making it difficult for weddings and funerals to be held in the basilica. 

A Malta Tourism Authority spokesperson said that the enforcement action ensured that the catering establishments in the square had their tables and chairs arranged in accordance with the square's master plan. 

Questions about why four entities were needed to enforce the action remained unanswered, as did questions about whether establishment owners were fined.

The action came after Planning and Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri said the authorities would be holding talks with all parties involved before updating the master plan for the square. 

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said in a Facebook post on Thursday that while Malta's weather enabled the enjoyment of open-air spaces, a balance needed to be struck because abuse would lead to a deterioration of the tourism product. 

He said more coordinated action between the four entities will follow to ensure the proper setup of tables and chairs.

Graffitti demand similar action in other localities

Moviment Graffitti welcomed the action taken on Thursday following its protest in the square a month ago.

In a Facebook post it congratulated the people of Victoria for having stood up to the abuse and called on the authorities to continually monitor the situation and not allow the abuse to be repeated.

The lobby group pointed out, however, that the abuses in Victoria were also taking place in public spaces in many other localities, and similar action was needed to enforce the law. 

Ombudsman welcomed enforcement

The Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning, Alan Saliba also welcomed Thursday's operation.  

They recalled that almost a month ago the commissioner had written to the Commissioner of Police asking him to take immediate action with the assistance of the authorities responsible for regulating and enforcing the use of outside tables and chairs by catering establishments.

"The Office of the Ombudsman has been actively addressing the concerns arising from the lack of enforcement of outdoor dining regulations. The Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning appeal for long-term solutions to enforce regulations on outside tables and chairs," the Ombudsman's Office said.

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