Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister, says hunters have been given a last chance after a proposed ban is narrowly defeated in referendum
Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
Sunday 12 April 2015 18.13 BSTLast modified on Monday 13 April 201500.06 BST
The spring hunting of quail and turtle doves, an activity that is banned across Europe, will continue unabated in Malta after voters in a referendum rejected a proposed ban.
The historic referendum was decided on a razor thin margin, with just 2,220 more votes deciding against the ban out of a total of of 250,648 votes cast. The “yes” camp won 50.4% of the vote thanks to a strong showing for the pro-hunting contingent on the island of Gozo, which is part of Malta.
Polls before the vote on Saturday had shown a six-point lead for conservationists, who backed a ban.
Joseph Muscat, Malta’s prime minister, said the public had given a last chance for hunters to practise their tradition. “But hunters have to understand that the story has changed for them, totally. Practically half the people do not want spring hunting to continue,” he said. “They have to understand that they must respect the law in the spring hunting season that will open on Tuesday.”
BirdLife Malta, which led the campaign against spring hunting, described it as “missed opportunity to end the killing of birds in spring”.