Anti-immigrant sentiments and attacks on NGOs and the media were prevalent in comments made by respondents to an online poll by The Times over whether heads should roll in the wake of the Safi incidents report.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents believed nobody should be made to resign following the publication of the report.

The long-awaited inquiry report on the violent clash between soldiers and illegal immigrants at Safi Barracks 11 months ago concluded that the order to use force so that the immigrants would return indoors was justified but the force applied by several soldiers "was exaggerated and out of proportion in the circumstances".

Twenty-six immigrants and two AFM soldiers were injured in the clashes.

Many of the respondents said they believed the army was justified in its actions, especially since the immigrants should not have been present in Malta in the first place.

However, one respondent urged readers not to put too much emphasis on the result, especially after a known far-right website called for a "no" block vote.

Several respondents chose not to beat about the bush in their condemnation of illegal immigrants and said the organised protest that day was not peaceful.

"The poor soldiers were within their right to beat these terrorists and rapists. The only heads that should roll are the immigrants' heads and the Jesuits' - who deserve the same treatment for filling this beautiful island with human sewage," was one harsh remark.

Others worked on the theory that outsiders instigated the incidents and they should be the ones to be punished. One woman said the soldiers had to keep their authority over the immigrants, who, she claimed, were armed.

Some claimed that the media knew about the protest beforehand and insisted that journalists should be equally held accountable - The Times and were especially singled out for "blowing the incident out of proportion". Both news organisations were the only ones that captured the incidents on film that day.

One respondent defended the media, saying that the only head that should roll is that of the inquiry author for practically blaming the media for what happened and for effectively advocating censorship of the press.

Some respondents said one should not point fingers at the soldiers since they lacked proper training and resources. Others said the incident exposed the level of amateurism in the army.

"If no action is taken - or only against one soldier whose lack of visor turned him into a proverbial scapegoat - this inquiry could have been a whitewash, hastily set up to assuage public sentiment and let it calm down.

"The gravity of the January 13 incidents has not been reduced with the passage of time and the authorities have no pretext not to order the disciplinary and criminal procedures that these events warrant."

A respondent said he was a patient at St Luke's Hospital when the Safi incidents occurred and he was disgusted with the way a medical examination was carried out on an injured detainee.

Another said the soldiers responsible for the violent response should be discharged - such conduct is unbecoming of people supposedly keeping the peace.

A respondent who claimed to have served in various "hotspots" in peacekeeping operations gave his interpretation of the incident: "Anyone who witnessed the incident as filmed should realise that excessive force was used and there was no command structure in place. Officers let their men run amok and the result was organised violence. The officers should be brought in front of a court martial".

One respondent summed it up in two sentences: "I believe the behaviour which manifested itself at the Safi Barracks incident is a symptom of a much wider problem in Malta. The general populace is more racist and xenophobic than it cares to admit."

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