Allowing the Italian government to drill for oil in Maltese waters in exchange for taking nearly all the migrants found at sea would be a national betrayal, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said today.

He was referring to a leading article in Il Giornale which reported that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had agreed with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to exchange irregular migrants for oil expropriation rights.

"If this is true and was done in secrecy it would be a terrible national betrayal," he said.

Dr Busuttil was speaking during a public dialogue session as part of the PN's week-long Independence Day celebrations.

Addressing a sizeable crowd gathered in Victory Square, behind the open air theatre in Valletta, Dr Busuttil said the local headlines were proof enough of why the Nationalist Party was needed.

Referring to news reports that senior cardiologist Albert Fenech's contract had been terminated by the government, Dr Busuttil said this was an attack on  patients.

He said his own father had been treated by Prof. Fenech as others gathered in the audience said the surgeon had also operated on them.

Dr Busuttil also referred to a press conference today during which Transport Minister Joe Mizzi refused to answer questions from the Nationalist Party media.

"He doesn't answer because he is afraid. But the truth hurts," Dr Busuttil said, referring to Mr Mizzi as "one of the government's most incompetent ministers".

Dr Busuttil was joined by 16 new PN candidates who also addressed the crowd.

Floriana deputy mayor Matthew Paris said one of his main concerns was the number of people losing interest in politics under the current administration. The key to turning this around, he said, rests with cleaner politics.

Attard local councillor Alex Attard said he had faith in Dr Busuttil as he had met him personally when he first joined the PN and his honesty and integrity were evident from the beginning.

"I am behind you and if I see anyone doing you harm I will be among those to bring this to your attention," he said.

The last candidate to speak, this time to applause, was David Thake, a popular Nationalist radio personality. Mr Thake said all candidates were there to serve the electorate. He urged "thousands" of nationalists to attend a mass meeting being held on Sunday.

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