Public officers against whom criminal charges had been levelled over the Vitals hospitals deal must step aside until proceedings are concluded, Opposition leader Bernard Grech insisted on Tuesday.

That, he said, was what happened to ordinary people and these people should not be granted special preference.

On Monday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said the charges did not constitute guilt and he would respect the presumption of innocence and not suspend anyone until he saw the evidence.

"There should be no special preference for the people who really are the establishment and expect to stay in their posts despite charges having been pressed against them," Grech retorted on Tuesday.

This was no longer the stage where one could argue that no evidence had been presented. The evidence was there and charges had been filed he said. 

Grech was reacting to a press conference Robert Abela held on Monday afternoon, shortly after criminal charges were filed against former prime minister Joseph Muscat and other senior figures of his administration.

Abela on the side of the accused, not the people

Grech said the prime minister had shown himself to be on the side of those accused of crime rather than on the side of the Maltese people.

The prime minister on Monday raised doubts about the way a magisterial inquiry was conducted before the charges were filed.

"We saw a prime minister who chose to stand alongside those accused of alleged crime instead of on the side of the people. He chose to stand alongside the aggressor instead of the victims...he chose his colleagues instead of Malta and the Maltese," Grech said.

Abela was being held hostage after millions had been stolen from the Maltese people, he added.

'Abela said 'establishment' 47 times'

Grech said Abela used the word "establishment" 47 times, during the press conference, reflecting his state of panic. He even accused some journalists of having their questions prepared by the establishment.

The prime minister, Grech said, should apologise for the way he treated journalists and said that just like Daphne Caruana Galizia, journalists should stride forward fearlessly in their fight for democracy.

"Twenty student organisations came out criticising Abela's irresponsible behaviour on Monday. Are they also part of the establishment?," he asked.  

"Does this mean that everyone who disagrees with you now is part of the establishment?"

Grech also called on the Attorney General to publish the inquiry report in its entirety and accused her of only giving a copyto Abela, who in turn shared its contents with the people he desired, despite his insistence that he has not yet seen it. 

"Robert Abela is being given the opportunity to choose what to do with the inquiry and control its conclusions."

"How can you tell us you don't agree with the conclusions of the inquiry when you're also telling us you haven't seen it? Prime minister, you're being caught lying," Grech said.

"And now you have turned against the few institutions that still work in this country - the courts and the media. You're dangerously attacking two pillars of democracy." 

The prime minister's attitude, Grech said, was harmful to Malta's reputation. How low would the bring minister go to defend his predecessor?  

'Abela is fanning the flames'

Other "leading figures" in the PL were also inciting the people to take to the streets, he said.   

"Robert Abela is behaving dangerously and is fanning the flames that - God forbid - might end up in a bonfire."  

"This is nothing but a call for people to take to the streets, which reminds us of a time when some Labourites broke into the courts and set fire to The Times."

He called on Abela to condemn the threats and said he was holding him responsible for anything that might happen as a result of rising tensions.

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