Last Updated: 11 p.m.

PBS this evening cancelled the Xarabank discussion programme after rebel Nationalist MP Franco Debono, who last Monday voted against the budget, turned up for a debate between the deputy leaders of the two parties instead of PL deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia.

Dr Farrugia was scheduled to take part in the debate with PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil.

In a surprise statement, the Labour Party said it accepted a request from Dr Debono to be given the opportunity to face Dr Busuttil during the programme.

It said it took this decision after evaluating Dr Debono’s request to represent himself and be given the opportunity to explain his vote against the budget.

The PL said it also considered the fact that in the past week Dr Busuttil refused another two invitations for a debate with Labour MP Anglu Farrugia on PBS programmes TVAM and Realta. This claim was immediately denied by PBS, which added that this was the third time that the PL failed to send its deputy leader for a debate with Dr Busuttil.

The PL said that Dr Busuttil and Dr Farrugia had already taken part in a two-hour debate on RTK.

PBS said that the televised debate between the two deputy leaders had been cancelled last week at the PL's request and Dr Debono this evening turned up instead of Dr Farrugia.

PBS said that last Saturday the PL refused to send its deputy leader Toni Abela for a debate with Dr Busuttil on Dissett.

In a statement PBS said that Dr Debono arrived at the studios accompanied by the PL’s information director Kurt Farrugia.

It said that this evening’s programme had to be cancelled because of the tension that had been created.

While awaiting developments at Where's Everybody's studio in Qormi, Dr Debono was seen pacing up and down and asking why Dr Busuttil was afraid to face him to discuss reforms he proposed in the justice sector.

As Dr Busuttil was escorted out of the studios he was repeatedly asked why he did not face Dr Debono.

He said that he went to the studios to hold a debate with Dr Farrugia.

“I came, I waited, I am still here and I am leaving because I have been told the programme has been cancelled.”

“If this is Muscat’s Labour Party, the Maltese and Gozitans have something to worry about, Dr Busuttil said.

In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the PL was afraid to send Dr Farrugia for a debate with Dr Busuttil.

It said that for the third time the PL failed to send deputy leaders for a debate with Dr Busuttil. The PL lacked arguments and policies and the Labour leader had come out as a coward.

The PL said it was now clear that the PN’s deputy leader was afraid to face Dr Debono, a Nationalist MP.

It said one would have expected Dr Busuttil, who spoke so much about reconciliation within the Nationalist Party, to accept Dr Debono’s challenge and give him time to explain his position.

The question was, the PL said, what was Dr Busuttil afraid of?

It said that Dr Busuttil was invited for a debate with Dr Farrugia on Bla Agenda.

It hoped that he would accept this invitation and not refuse it, as he had already done another two times.

In yet another statement later in the evening, the PL said that Dr Farrugia was accepting the invitation for a debate with Dr Busuttil. The PL said the debate should be broadcast on PBS and One and be moderated by a  presenter agreed upon by the two sides.

It said it also expected that in the coming days, the PBS would hold a debate between Dr Busuttil and Dr Debono.

The PL said it had contacted the Broadcasting Authority for a right of reply to the way the national station was used this evening to manage the agenda against it.

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