Stripping Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of the honours bestowed on him by Malta is not a priority and can wait, according to the Nationalist Party.

When asked for the party’s position on the idea, which was floated by former Nationalist MP Frank Portelli, a party spokesman said the priority at this stage was to remain focused on the humanitarian operations being coordinated through Malta, including the provision of food and medicines, and the ongoing evacuation procedures.

“The issue of Gaddafi’s honour is not a priority at this stage and can be taken up in due course,” the spokesman said.

When the Labour Party was asked for its stand on the matter a spokesman said: “Why isn’t Frank Portelli lobbying his party to do it?”

Col Gaddafi, who can boast of being an honorary member of the Xirka Ġieħ ir-Repubblika and an honorary companion of the National Order of Merit, is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, including attacks on unarmed civilians during the rapidly unfolding events in Libya.

He can only be divested of these honours, conferred upon him in 1976 and 2004, by a parliamentary resolution.

Dr Portelli, who was also a member of the Maltese delegation to the Council or Europe, wrote to the President calling for an “honours removal committee” to be set up to decide whether Col Gaddafi should be allowed to keep his Maltese honours.

Replying to Dr Portelli’s request, Attorney General Peter Grech said the President could only strip someone of their honours after a resolution by the House of Representatives.

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, one of the two MPs who had openly supported anti-regime protesters in a march in Valletta a few days ago, said even though he agreed Col Gaddafi should be stripped of his honours the issue was “secondary” to the greater crisis being faced.

“I don’t think the most important thing is for his decorations to be removed. I think the stand the government has taken disapproves in an absolute way what Gaddafi has done in Libya. It is definitely not the time to give him more honours but whether to strip him of his honours... it’s a secondary issue. The stand the government has taken reflects a much stronger, louder position than any decoration given to Gaddafi,” Dr Fenech Adami said.

Labour Whip Joe Mizzi said he was not aware of anyone within his party who intended to move a motion calling for Col Gaddafi to be stripped of his honours. However, he added, nothing was stopping whoever wanted to do so.

Nationalist Whip David Agius, on the other hand, said stripping Col Gaddafi of the honours would still be a “very significant gesture” and he doubted whether something of the sort had ever happened.

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