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Protesters walk outside the office of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat during a demonstration called by the opposition Nationalist Party in Valletta, Malta, February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

(reuters_tickers)

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Several thousands people took to the streets of the capital of Malta on Sunday to protest against a new bill that will force Internet news sites to register with the government.

Critics say that the proposal represents a clampdown on freedom of speech and the leader of Malta's opposition Nationalist Party (NP) promised to scrap the plan if he wins next year's general election.

"This is a restriction on Internet freedom and a future Nationalist government will repeal it if it gets approved by parliament," NP leader Simon Busuttil told the rally in Valletta.

The bill was announced by the government last week and has yet to go before parliament. The proposed law would require all websites carrying news and controlled from Malta to register with the government, with the threat of fines for those that fail to comply.

The government says it is following the same procedure as already exists for newspapers.

($1 = 0.9424 euros)

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by David Goodman)

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