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Spain says committed to dialogue after Gibraltar spat

Spain is committed to “dialogue with friendly countries”, Madrid said Thursday, a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron warned his Spanish counterpart that a Gibraltar border spat risked damaging their relations.

Tensions flared at the weekend when Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo threatened to impose a 50-euro ($66) charge to cross the border with the British overseas territory in either direction.

Increased searches by Spanish border guards have also irked Gibraltar, which has accused Spain of deliberately creating hold-ups in retaliation for the tiny territory dumping concrete blocks in the sea to create an artificial reef.

Madrid has argued that the border checks are necessary to combat smuggling and that the reef will harm the environment.

“We will never scale back on our responsibility to defend the security and interests of the Spanish people,” said Jose Luis Ayllon, the Spanish secretary of state for parliamentary relations.

But he added: “Our willingness for dialogue with all friendly countries obviously remains intact.”

On Wednesday Cameron called Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to express “serious concerns” about the escalating tit-for-tat, warning of a “real risk” that the border row could harm bilateral ties, Downing Street said.

Long queues of vehicles were again sighted at the border between Gibraltar and mainland Spain on Thursday, local media reported, with cars taking up to two hours to enter the British territory.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 but has long argued that it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty. London says it will not do so against the wishes of Gibraltarians — who are staunchly pro-British.

The internally self-governing British overseas territory, measuring just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles), is home to about 30,000 people.