The Labour Party leadership yesterday claimed part of the credit, along with the party's European Socialist partners, for the European Parliament's "no" vote to the European Commission's port reform proposal, saying the MLP had been working for this week's outcome for years.

Given the warmest of welcomes by the port workers, complete with fireworks, Labour leader Alfred Sant addressed a press conference outside the Sea Malta building in Marsa together with veteran parliamentarian George Vella and MEPs Joseph Muscat and Louis Grech, as well as the party secretary general Jason Micallef and deputy leader Charles Mangion.

Journalists pointed out that despite the party's endorsement of the "no" lobby, the head of the party's delegation in the European Parliament was absent on the day of the vote. The Labour leader said MEP John Attard Montalto was on a "personal political mission" in Mexico and the party had cleared the trip when it became clear that there was a strong movement against the proposal and his vote would not have made a difference.

In total, 532 MEPs voted against the proposed port reform with 120 in favour and 25 abstentions. All the Maltese MEPs except for Dr Attard Montalto voted against.

"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," Dr Sant said to another journalist who asked how Labour could claim to be trying to maximise EU benefits when one of its MEPs was absent at crucial voting sessions such as the one on Wednesday.

Dr Sant said the proposal was rejected and that was what counted.

Dr Vella explained that Labour has been working against the proposal for years. The government, on the other hand, through the then Economy Minister Josef Bonnici, had said back in 2004 that the proposal would not affect Malta.

Since then Labour had worked hard at all levels to oppose the reform, Mr Muscat said. Trade unions vehemently opposed it, with strikes being organised across European ports including Malta.

On Tuesday violence broke out during a mass protest by dockers held outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg. However, Mr Muscat emphasised these were isolated incidents and the protests were for the most part peaceful.

"These acts are to be condemned. And it has to be stressed that the members of the General Workers' Union played no part in the violence," he said.

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